NEW YORK //Instead of being one defeat from elimination, New York Rangers need only one more win to knock out the Washington Capitals and advance to the conference finals for the first time since 1997.
Getting that far is expected when you finish first in the regular season, but no one could have drawn it up this way.
With only seconds separating the East's top-seeded team from a series deficit they would be hard pressed to overcome, a pair of power-play goals from Brad Richards and Marc Staal and on the same high-sticking penalty against Washington's Joel Ward turned what seemed to be a sure loss into one of the most thrilling wins in Rangers history.
Game 6 is Wednesday night at Washington. If the Capitals win, Game 7 would be back in New York on Saturday.
"Nobody thinks we are going to lose it easily," said Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals star. "It's not over yet. We're going home to play at our house. We'll come back here."
The Rangers have been struggling on the power play throughout the play-offs, and they had failed on their first three chances Monday without mustering a shot.
With so little time and no real confidence to fall back on, even the most optimistic supporter had to have had doubts.
"The last minute was incredible," Staal said.
That is when the Rangers somehow cured their ailing power play. New York had been 2 for 16 on the advantage in the series before Ward's penalty changed everything. "We knew we had a power play going into overtime and we wanted to get one and be quick," Staal said.
"That's what we ended up doing."
Staal won it with a drive that appeared to deflect off a Washington player before beating goalie Braden Holtby.
"We have to put it behind us," Holtby said. "It's a tough loss, obviously. It's the way hockey goes sometimes."
Ward was the first-round hero for the Capitals, scoring the winning goal in overtime of Game 7 to knock out the Boston Bruins. Now, he hopes he will have the chance to redeem himself.
"This definitely stings," Ward said. "It was a hard-fought battle. It's tough when you let the team down on a play like that."
But the Capitals raced to his defense, and tried to take the blame and spotlight away from him.
"It was an accident,"said Dale Hunter, the coach. "It accidentally came up. It's just a hockey play. You don't overanalyse it. You just go play. We'll battle again like we did the whole series and the series before."
Capitals forward Matt Hendricks said: "It's tough. It's hard to swallow. It's a tough loss. We need to regroup. They won at home. Now we need to win at home. We'll watch film on it and we'll let it go and fix our mistakes."
The Rangers mobbed each other at center ice as the crushed Capitals trudged toward the tunnel to their dressing room. Then, the New York players raised their sticks to the crowd as red, white and blue streamers cascaded from the rafters at Madison Square Garden. The celebration, which culminated in fireworks as the three stars of the game were announced, seemed almost inevitable after Richards tied it.
"It's a kick in the gut when you lose because it happens so quickly, and it's pretty exciting when you win because it happens quick," said John Tortorella, the New York coach.
COYOTES WELCOME NEW OWNER WITH WIN
They had become immune to the ownership saga and, besides, had more pressing business in front of them: a spot in the Western Conference finals.
Capping a momentous day, the Coyotes celebrated news of a new owner - former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison - with a 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Monday night to reach the conference finals for the first time in 33 years as an NHL franchise.
"The organisation, obviously there's been some adversity a lot of teams don't have to go through," said Dave Tippet, the Coyotes coach. "It's very rewarding to know that our players have to put that on the backburner and just move forward and try to do whatever they can to help us win."
There is no official sale agreement yet and Jamison still needs to work out lease details with the city of Glendale, which could be dicey with conservative watchdog group, the Goldwater Institute, lurking to stop the use of public funds.
Still, after three years of waiting, the move toward ownership and staying in the desert took a big step.
Next up for the Coyotes are the Los Angeles Kings, the first No. 8 seed to knock off Nos 1 and 2 in the same play-offs.
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