LANDOVER -- A week ago, the Washington Capitals seemed headed for an early exit from the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup playoffs. They were down two games to one to the New York Rangers in the best-of-seven Patrick Division semifinals. They were coming off a 6-0 defeat on home ice. A long vacation beckoned.
"We spent a lot of time reviewing what it takes to be successful," recalled Capitals coach Terry Murray. "That game was a rallying point for us."
The Caps' rally began Tuesday night with a 3-2 win at home, continued with a stirring, come-from-behind, 5-4 victory in overtime Thursday in New York and concluded here with Saturday night's 4-2 series clincher before a sellout crowd at the Capital Centre.
It put the Caps in the division finals for the second straight year -- a first in franchise history -- and gave Washington a couple of extra days' rest. The New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins will play Game 7 of their series tonight in Pittsburgh.
"I think we did a good job getting back to playing Capitals hockey," said Murray. "In Game 3, we were still playing as a bunch of individuals."
There were some standout performances against the Rangers on Saturday night, most notably by goaltender Don Beaupre, who was helped by an early 3-0 cushion and, except for a brief letdown late in the second period, was tough again down the stretch to keep New York from getting any closer.
In the 6-0 defeat, Beaupre had given up four goals and was removed by Murray after the second period while Rangers goalie Mike Richter made 37 saves and went on to secure his first National Hockey League shutout.
This time, Richter gave up goals on the first two shots he faced, and three of the first four. The second-year goaltender was replaced by John Vanbiesbrouck a little past the seven-minute mark of the opening period.
"It was like a boxing match when you knock your opponent out," said Caps forward Nick Kypreos. "We gave him a good left hook."
It was the second straight year the Caps knocked the Rangers out of the playoffs, following last season's five-game romp in the Patrick Division finals. It also marked the continuation of the longest drought in hockey: 51 years without the Rangers winning the Cup.
The Caps don't seem to care who they play in the division finals. But considering that they would start Wednesday with two home games against the Devils, and would go on the road against the Penguins, Washington may be rooting for New Jersey tonight.
"That's something I have no control over," said Murray. "Let the stars decide it."