“It was a great game by us. A great performance. We played a good 60 minutes. We didn’t allow them too many chances. Neuvy played great tonight. It was a great effort by everybody.” -- Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom.

Ovi celebrates the second goal of the game for the Caps. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network).

In the end, this was simply the culmination of a dominant team over a lesser opponent.  But for sixty minutes on Saturday afternoon for the home fans, it was a triumph of spirit.

The Washington Capitals did everything they wanted to do in Game Five, from the initial puck drop until the final horn, dominating the New York Rangers, winning Game Five 3-1 and capturing their best of seven Eastern Conference Semi-final matchup four games to one.

The Capitals now can afford to relax for a few days as their second round opponent is sorted out.  And their fans can now rejoice in putting away a first round opponent in five games, escaping the demons of gut-wrenching previous playoff series debacles of years past.

As it turned out, the Rangers really couldn't play with the Capitals.  They were swamped from the very beginning of the game, and the Caps skated circles around the Rags, who played the part of bully in Game Four until the Caps stormed back and re-took play from the lesser talented team.

Sure, the Rangers were successful for a while in Games Three and Four in dumbing down the game and forcing the Caps into playing more of a style that suited them: a plodding, ugly, messy affair.

But from the puck drop Saturday, the Caps dictated play.  They were faster, crisper, hit harder, passed better and generally controlled play on the Rangers, who were overwhelmed by the speed and physicality of the Caps.

Rangers forward Brian Boyle, who instigated plenty of contact in Game Four, talked about the shift in dynamics as the series left New York and came back to D.C.  "I thought our first shift was pretty good, but they came back with some good ones. Their first power play, they were swarming. They kept the momentum, the building was rocking. It was hard to get [the momentum] back. Towards the second, we started playing better and the third we did as well but we just couldn’t create enough offense.”

Defenseman Marc Staal was even less effusive about his team's play.  “From the start of this one, I noticed we were sitting back a little bit and they were making plays around us and gaining momentum that way. I can’t really tell you right now what it [was].”

Washington dominated play early, keeping the puck in the New York zone, and when veteran defenseman Bryan McCabe went off for tripping at 5:42, you got a sense the Caps weren't going to mess around.  Nor did they.  Alex Ovechin gathered a rebound and came cruising in from the point and held the puck until Mike Green could pinch in from the opposite point.  Ovi gave him a perfect pass at the faceoff circle. 

Green got a shot off and Henrik Lundqvist kicked it right back to Green, who stuffed it in to give the Caps the first period goal they sought the entire series.  After the goal, there was a pretty nasty scrum, and five players were sent to the box, four for roughing (including Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin), and New York took a bench minor for "abuse of officials". 

Rangers coach John Tortorella, long known as a hothead behind the bench, finally put his team behind the eight-ball.  The Caps didn't score on the ensuing power play, but they had finally gotten to the Rangers wizard by standing up physically to the abuse the lesser talented team had tried to dole out.  In a 30-second scrum, Laich and Semin not only stood up for themselves, but for their entire team.  It was long overdue, and it was particularly effective.

Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green celebrate Caps first goal, as Brooks Laich pays the price. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network).
In the second, Ovechkin broke in and beat Lundqvist (24 saves) on a true goal-scorer's goal, beating defenseman Marc Staal, going hard on the forehand, then cutting across the crease to flick a backhander over the sprawled Lundqvist for the backbreaker.

New York didn't just give up, but anyone watching knew they were broken.  When Semin banged home a perfect pass from Marcus Johansson with 3:37 remaining, the roof just about popped off the joint.

Michal Neuvirth was, again, outstanding.  He was only truly challenged on a handful of occasions, but was up to the task.  Neuvirth made 26 saves for his fourth win of the postseason. His 1.38 goals-against average in the first round leads the NHL, as does his .946 save percentage. The young Czech netminder has yet to lose a playoff series in North America.

Yes, the volume level was just as impressive as the Capitals play Saturday.  After the challenge that the denizens of Madison Square Garden laid down in Game Four, the red rockers proved worthy adversaries, with chants of "We Are Louder" to go along with the customary "Let's Go Caps!" chants, inspired and instigated by resident cheer-leaders Horn Guy and Goat.

Hey MSG, can you hear us? (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)
The performance by the fans in the stands matched the effort by the players on the ice.  And for one night, the fruits of owner Ted Leonsis' plan could seen in plain sight: A team and its fans acting off one another in pure synergy.

The Caps have a long way to go for their ultimate goal.  Their captain said as much in his post-game remarks from the locker room.  "It’s first time we win the series in five games," Ovechkin said. "It’s pretty cool, we have time to rest. Right now I feel pretty good, but it’s not over yet, it’s just one step.”

Just one step. 
The Caps don't yet know who their second round opponent will be.  Regardless of who it might be, the Capitals are much more prepared than in years past to take that next step.
But for now, Caps fans, rejoice.  Enjoy this first round victory, do not take it for granted.  And don't look past it yet either.  There will be more games to be played in the quest for hockey's Holy Grail, but don't let one moment of this glorious victory go unsavored.
3. Boyd Gordon. 12-of-15 from the dot.  Fourth line really shut down Rangers skill players all night long.
2. Alex Ovechkin. Goal. Assist.  Doing his job.
1. Michal Neuvrith.  Stellar.  Calm, cool, collected.  I don't think he gave up a rebound all night.
CAPS NOTES:  Mike Green took a slap shot of fhis helmet only moments after scoring his goal in the first period and did not return.
Washington killed off 19 of the Rangers’ 20 power plays in the series (95.0%).

Michal Neuvrith makes one of his 26 saves. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)

The traditional post-series handshake at center ice. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network).

Capitals salute their raucous crowd after 3-1 win over Rangers (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)