LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals put two old playof ghosts, as well as the New York Rangers, to rest last night. Neither the ghosts nor the Rangers went easily.
But after scoring three goals in a little more than the first seven minutes of the opening period, the Caps held on for a 4-2 victory before a sellout crowd of 18,130 at the Capital Centre.
The victory clinched the best-of-seven Patrick Division semifinal series for Washington, four game to two, and sent the Caps into the division final against the winner of tomorrow night's seventh game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils.
"To be up 3-0 in the first nine minutes, I almost didn't know how to handle it," said Caps coach Terry Murray. "It took my breath away."
It certainly took something away from the Rangers and second-year goaltender Mike Richter. Six nights after making 37 saves in his first National Hockey League shutout, Richter gave up goals on the first two shots he faced and three of the first four.
"When you're really sharp, you make those pucks hit you," said Richter. "You just find a way to get them."
Said Caps forward Nick Kypreos: "It was like a boxing match when you knock your opponent out after a couple of minutes. We just gave him a good left hook."
Actually, it was a goal by Mike Ridley -- on a neat centering pass from Kypreos in the corner -- that knocked Richter out with 7 minutes, 6 seconds gone in the game and Washington ahead 3-0. Dimitri Krystich and Kelly Miller had scored earlier.
Though veteran John Vanbiesbrouck played valiantly in relief -- allowing only a rebound by Steve Leach to put the Caps ahead 4-1 -- Caps goaltender Don Beaupre was more than solid enough after the Rangers cut their deficit to 4-2 late in the second period.
Said Washington defenseman Alan May, "If you can't hold a three-goal lead, you don't deserve to win the series."
It is the first time that the Capitals have reached the second round in successive years. It is also the second straight year that Washington eliminated New York, following last season's five-game victory in the division finals.
Nearly as significant was the way the Caps followed through after Thursday night's 5-4 overtime victory in New York. Washington had been infamous for returning home after a big playoff road win and losing. It has been 51 years since the Rangers' last Stanley Cup.
"This is a tough place to come from behind with the ice the way it is," said Rangers coach Roger Neilson, whose team lost the last three games of the series and played last night without Bernie Nicholls (sprained knee and broken foot). "We wanted to come out just as hard as they did. Unfortunately, they got the goals."
But even with the early lead, the game became a bit of a unexpected struggle for Washington. From the middle of the second period on, the Caps appeared a bit too defensive, even for them. The Rangers, meanwhile, continued to put the pressure on Beaupre.
But Beaupre came up with several big saves in the final period -- one on a straightaway slap shot from 10 feet away by Darren Turcotte with 8:21 left -- before the Caps clamped down and clinched the series. Beaupre finished with 23 saves.
"I wanted to play steady and not give up any bad goals, and try to be the difference when it counted," said Beaupre. "The difference was the three goals in the first period."
NOTES: The Caps will open the division finals Wednesday night. If the Penguins win at home tomorrow night, the first two games will be in Pittsburgh. If the Devils win, the first two games will be at the Capital Centre.
NY Rangers 0 2 0 -- 2
Washington 3 1 0 -- 4
First period--1, Washington, Khristich 1 (Hunter, Druce), 2:46. 2, Washington, Miller 3 (Leach), 4:09. 3, Washington, Ridley 2 (Kypreos, May), 7:06. Penalties--Patrick, NY (roughing), 2:12; Pivonka, Was (roughing), 2:12; Moller, NY, major (fighting), 6:08; Druce, Was, major (fighting), 6:08; Kocur, NY (elbowing), 9:23; Ciccarelli, Was (hooking), 10:39; Janssens, NY (unsportsmanlike conduct), 13:34; Ciccarelli, Was (unsportsmanlike conduct), 13:34; Johansson, Was (high-sticking), 19:12.
Second period--4, New York, King 2, 8:57. 5, Washington, Leach 1 (Johansson, Hunter), 11:58. 6, New York, Rice 2 (Amonte, Millen), 18:34 (pp). Penalties--King, NY (slashing), 2:46; Miller, Was (tripping), 3:37; Amonte, NY (holding), 9:32; Tippett, Was (tripping), 17:12.
Third period--None. Penalties--Janssens, NY (roughing), 5:44; Pivonka, Was (tripping), 5:44; King, NY, major (fighting), 14:49; Lalor, Was (fighting), 14:49.
Shots on goal--New York 12-7-6--25. Washington 8-11-7--26. Power-play opportunities--New York 1 of 4; Washington 0 of 3. Goalies--New York, Richter, 2-4 (4 shots-1 save), Vanbiesbrouck (7:06 first, 22-21). Washington, Beaupre, 4-2 (25-23). A--18,130.
Referee--Denis Morel. Linesmen--Swede Knox, Brad Lazarowich.