Caps give fans a reason to cheer

Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin celebrates his second period goal against the New York Rangers....

Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin celebrates his second period goal against the New York Rangers. (REUTERS/Molly Riley)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:45 PM ET

WASHINGTON - Decked out in a seemingly endless sea of bright red on Saturday, the capacity crowd at the Verizon Center spent much of the afternoon mocking New Yorkers by gleefully chanting We are louder!

Upon further review, their team is much better, too.

And if the rest of the hockey world wasnt listening, it had better start.

Serving notice that this, finally, might be the spring that they intend to make a deep post-season run instead of another early round flop, the Washington Capitals became the first Eastern Conference team to advance to the second round with a 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers.

For the first time since Bruce Boudreau and Alex Ovechkin have been together in Washington, the Capitals played a post-season series that did not go the full seven-game limit.

For The Coach and The Superstar, the news actually gets better.

Consider that, entering this matchup against the Rangers, Boudreau and Ovechkin had only won one series together, making this one all the more sweeter.

And they did it in such efficient fashion, too, finishing off the Rangers in five games, 4-1, en route to buying some well-earned days to heal their bumps and bruises.

Its the first time weve won a series in five games, Ovechkin said, grinning from ear to ear. Its pretty cool.

Right now I feel pretty good, but its not over yet. Its just one step.

Maybe. But its a step that in previous years, too often than not, the Caps stumbled over, including a year ago when they blew a first-round 3-1 series lead and lost in seven games to the upstart Montreal Canadiens.

Last year, when we were up 3-1, we thought the series was over, Ovechkin said. We werent going to let that happen again.

In the end, he didnt. Neither did fellow stars Mike Green and Alexander Semin. Between them, they each beat Henrik Lundqvist, accounting for the Caps three goals. As Boudreau said: Our best players were our best players.

And, aside from rookie goalie Michal Neuvith, no one was better than Ovechkin.

Midway though the second period, The Great Eight took a clearing feed from Scott Hannan and blew past defenceman Marc Staal before putting the perfect deke on Lundqvist to finish off the play.

Asked about making Staal appear as if he was standing still, Ovechkin said: Well, I think I have pretty good speed.

Point taken.

But offence has never been an issue with this team. Its been defensive and character shortcomings that have caused Boudreaus boys to be slapped with the label as underachievers.

Not anymore.

It was Boudreaus decision to switch from an offensive to defensive philosophy that has this Capitals team playing the type of hockey that makes them one of the top contenders to go all the way in the 2011 Stanley Cup tournament.

Backed by the solid play of first year goalie Michal Neuvirth, the Caps allowed just eight goals in five games throughout the series, including just two in three home appearances. In the process, they almost completely shut down the Rangers big guns like Marian Gaborik and Wojtek Wolski, never really allowing them to build any offensive momentum.

I think that shows how committed we are, forward Nicklas Backstrom said. I think it shows what a different team we are from the past.

A team that the rest of the participants in these Stanley Cup playoffs had better be wary of.


Videos

Photos