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Rangers-Caps: The Battle of the Potomac is Over ... The Hudson River War Begins

Whoever said the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a “Battle of Attrition” was not whistling “Dixie” nor, for that matter, “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea.”

But the Battle of the Potomac is over with New York’s 2-1 triumph on Saturday night over Washington at The Garden. The Blueshirts won the series four games to three.

Defenseman Michael Del Zotto scored the game-winner midway through the third period, as the Rangers improved to 5-0 all-time in Game 7s at home.

“I’m just happy to contribute,” Del Zotto said. “Coming out of the second intermission, we had to be aggressive on both sides of the puck. Bouncing back after losses is something we’ve done all year.”

On Monday, the much-anticipated Hudson River War begins when the Devils take New Jersey’s colors through the Lincoln Tunnel to The Garden.

“We’re just going to go about our business and get ready for another team,” said coach John Tortorella, who insisted he doesn’t place any more emotion into the cross river rivalry.

For the second straight series, “attrition” was defined as a seven-gamer in which the Capitals pushed the Blueshirts to their limit, not unlike the almost-forgotten Ottawa Senators.

“We’ve been playing some really good hockey the past couple of months,” Capitals forward Matt Hendricks said. “For it to end this way is hard.”

Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 22 shots for New York, played a near-flawless game before being beaten by Roman Hamrlik in the third period.

A key to the Rangers win was their ability to shut down Washington captain Alex Ovechkin, who played more than 20 minutes.

“It’s tough to lose this way by a goal,” said Ovechkin, who was responsible in part for the winning goal. “I went down when Del Zotto hit me. And that’s when they started their attack that led to the winner.”

Washington’s best chance to win occurred in the middle period when the Capitals controlled the puck for extended stretches in the Rangers' zone. Both errant shots and saves by Lundqvist preserved the one-goal margin.

“Oh man, it was a tough series,” said a visibly exhausted Lundqvist. “We worked so hard to prepare for this moment all year long. We had to stay focused to accomplish what was within reach.”

The game essentially was decided in the first period, when the Rangers stole a leaf from Washington’s Game 6 playbook; score the first goal.

It took a mere 1:32 into the opening frame for New York to beat a shaky Braden Holtby. Brad Richards’ one-time shot from the right circle was conspicuously stoppable but it beat the third-string Caps goalie.

“I never saw the puck,” Holtby explained. “I was screened on the shot.”

“Scoring first set the tone for what was a fast-paced game," Richards said. "We fed off the emotion of the fans.”

“The first goal of the game was a very important one,” Tortorella added. “To get a lead against that team was very important.”

The remainder of the period also was a reflection of the opening stanza last Wednesday in Washington. Only this time the Rangers owned the puck and the ice. Their only negative was the failure to cash in on the period’s lone power play.

The second period opened with a question about whether the Caps would wake up out of their stupor. The visitors didn’t have a single dangerous offensive opportunity in the first 20 minutes.

“We didn’t run out of gas,” insisted Brooks Laich. “We kept trying.”

The Capitals upped their attack in the second period, but failed to foil Lundqvist, who was both lucky and good, as were the Blueshirts, who escaped the frame without a penalty.

“We were really pushing there in the second period,” Washington forward Mike Knuble said. “We just couldn’t jam anything in.”

Most of the Capitals’ point shots failed to seep through the New York defenses. After two periods, the Rangers had blocked 14 shots and Washington 10.

In the first half of the third period, it was the Rangers who were the aggressors.

After Marian Gaborik’s shot was blocked by Hamrlik, New York blueliner Del Zotto knocked down Ovechkin, skated into the enemy zone before snapping the shot past Holtby’s right arm at 10:05.

The Capitals responded with a goal 38 seconds later. Hamrlik corralled the loose puck in the high slot and wristed the biscuit past the right arm of a screened Lundqvist at 10:43.

What ultimately was the game -- and series -- turning point occurred at 11:19 when Ruslan Fedotenko was sent off on a delay-of-game penalty. The Caps immediately set up in perfect power-play formation and the tying goal seemed imminent.

The puck came to defenseman Dennis Wideman. While his teammates moved into PP formation, Wideman inexplicably misplayed the puck, enabling the Rangers to ice it.

From that point on the Capitals' power play was chaotically inept and the Rangers easily killed the penalty.

And there went Washington’s chance to tie the game and possibly win the series.

Now comes the Hudson River Hockey War with overtones of 1994, among other interstate collisions.


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