A raucous crowd packed Madison Square Garden Sunday afternoon, expecting the Rangers to shake off their poorest performance of the series in Game 5, and thinking that New York would punch its ticket to a second-round date with Boston by beating the Caps at home in Game 6.
Instead, the Capitals were very rude guests, delivering more of a crushing defeat than the previous one and dimming the Rangers' hopes of advancing with a 5-3 win that was only close on the final scoresheet thanks to a pair of late cosmetic tallies by New York.
With the win, the Caps force a decisive Game 7 Tuesday at Verizon Center, and for the second year in a row, the team has erased a three-games-to-one deficit in a playoff series to push the series to the full seven games. Now, this year, Washington will look to complete the comeback with a win after having fallen to Philadelphia in overtime last spring.
While Washington has been getting stronger as the series has progressed, so too have the Rangers started to look less and less cohesive, even leaving the fans giving Henrik Lundqvist a Bronx cheer late in the scond period after he allowed five goals on 20 shots in the Rangers' second straight loss.
Tom Poti, not exactly a fan favorite in Manhattan, had a game to remember as well, scoring a goal and three assists for his first four-point night since 2004 - when he was a member of the Blueshirts.
Many expected the Rangers to come out flying with a chance to close out the series at home, but New York really didn't build off the energy that was present in the building. The Blushirts had one or two decent chances in the first few minutes, but couldn't convert.
Milan Jurcina then put a damper on the proceedings by blasting a shot past Lundqvist just 7:09 into the game, briefly silencing a crowd that had seen its team turn in a lousy performance in Game 5.
However, Shaone Morrisonn was whistled for a penalty just :23 after Jurcina's tally, and the Rangers took advantage. Scott Gomez tipped in a Wade Redden shot just 1:06 after the Caps took the lead, and brought the Garden back to life.
A hit by Donald Brashear on Blair Betts that left the Ranger woozy riled up the crowd, and then the Capitals scored a pair of goals less than four minutes apart to really put them in an angry mood.
With Paul Mara then being sent off for holding, Mike Green finally got his first goal of the series with 6:02 left in the first, burying a deflected Alexander Semin shot to put the Caps in the lead.
Then after Tom Poti was whistled for a delay of game penalty, the man-disadvantage actually helped the Caps after the kill. A blocked Ranger pass created a 3-on-1 with Poti coming out of the box, and after a tic-tac-toe passing play with Boyd Gordon and Dave Steckel, Poti completed the play with his second goal of the series with 2:46 left to play and really put the Caps in control.
Washington continued to press in the second period, and Viktor Kozlov really put the game out of reach after breaking in and putting the puck past Lundqvist and tumbling into the goaltender with 10:39 to play in the frame.
Then, Ovechkin added another tally, tipping in Poti shot for a 5-1 lead with 3:16 left in the period, leaving the majority of the crowd that expected a series win heading for the exits and Lundqvist pulled for the second straight game after stopping just 15 of 20 shots.
Perhaps the only negative of the game for the Capitals was the third period in which they played perhaps an overly passive frame and took a couple of stupid penalties, which potentially could have gotten New York back in the contest by giving them a pair of 5-on-3s, one of which Ryan Callahan scored his second of the series on. But, the Caps held the Rangers at bay for most of the period, only allowing a meaningless goal by Marc Staal with just :05.4 left in regulation to seal the 5-3 final score.
Now, the Capitals come off a pair of convincing wins while facing elimination, outscoring the Rangers 9-3 and never trailing New York in the past two games. Unlike the Rangers' previous Game 3 loss at home, New York had trouble keeping up with Washington in the contest, and the gap between the two clubs appears to be getting wider as the Caps hit their stride and the Rangers are sputtering.
But, now, the series will boil down to one game Tuesday night, with the winner earning a trip to the second round. It appears the Rangers will have to play a perfect game against Washington in order to advance, but if the Caps can duplicate the effort they had against New York in the past two games, they will have an excellent chance to celebrate their first playoff series win since 1998.