WASHINGTON — It was an early end that was long overdue.
Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals are on to the second round of the playoffs. And they advanced without needing seven games, beating the Rangers 3-1 on Saturday to win the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series in five games.
Ovechkin scored in the second period and assisted on Mike Green's first-period goal, and Alexander Semin sealed the series with a third-period goal.
Washington had played four previous playoff series since Bruce Boudreau took over as coach in 2007. All had gone to seven games, and it won only one. It hadn't won a series in fewer than seven games since 1998, when it beat Buffalo in six in the East final on the way to its only appearance in the Stanley Cup final.
"I'll have to give my head a shake when I wake up tomorrow and wonder where we're supposed to be playing," Boudreau said.
Game 5 was the genesis of the Capitals' downfall a year ago, when it had the best record in the league and was the East's top seed. Washington allowed two quick goals on the way to blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Canadiens.
Saturday, Washington dominated the first, putting constant pressure on goalie Henrik Lundqvist and outshooting the Rangers 13-6, not counting 13 shots that were blocked. Green got one past Lundqvist on a power play.
"Last year, when we had the lead 3-1, we thought it was over, and it was not over," said Ovechkin, who raced past defenseman Marc Staal to create a breakaway on which he scored to make it 2-0. "We relaxed. Right now, everybody (is) focused, and nobody (is) relaxed."
The Rangers scored only eight goals against Michal Neuvirth in the series and lost two games in overtime, including Game 4 after blowing a 3-0 third-period lead.
"When we face a team like Washington that I think may be a little bit better, a little more skilled, we got some opportunities," Lundqvist said. "And you need to grab them, and we didn't. We had a chance to get some wins. … When you have that chance and opportunity, you need to grab it."
While Washington's players were intent on proving they could finish off an opponent, its fans were determined to win the shouting match with their New York counterparts. Rangers fans serenaded Boudreau with "Can you hear us?" during Game 4 after he said the fans were louder in the nation's capital than those at Madison Square Garden.
So fans at the Verizon Center alternated "Let's go Caps" with "We are louder."
No doubt the dispute will linger over whose building is louder. But the more important argument has been settled: The team from Washington is better.
"It couldn't have gone too much better than the way it did," Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We said to ourselves we wanted to try and win a series, if we can, in four or five and get as much rest as possible, because you definitely feel the effects through a seven-game series."
First Period—1, Washington, Green 1 (Ovechkin, Laich), 5:59 (pp). Penalties—McCabe, NYR (tripping), 5:42; Drury, NYR (roughing), 5:59; Dubinsky, NYR (roughing), 5:59; New York bench, served by Prospal (unsportsmanlike conduct), 5:59; Semin, Was (roughing), 5:59; Laich, Was (roughing), 5:59.
Second Period—2, Washington, Ovechkin 3 (Hannan, Laich), 7:04. Penalties—Prust, NYR (interference), 7:53; Bradley, Was (hooking), 10:20; Erskine, Was (interference), 17:19.
Third Period—3, Washington, Semin 3 (Johansson, Sturm), 16:23. 4, N.Y. Rangers, Wolski 1 (McCabe, Avery), 19:28. Penalties—McCabe, NYR, minor-misconduct (roughing), 19:28; Fedotenko, NYR (roughing), 19:28; Avery, NYR, misconduct, 19:28; Erskine, Was (roughing), 19:28. Shots on Goal—N.Y. Rangers 6-10-11—27. Washington 13-6-8—27. Power-play opportunities—N.Y. Rangers 0 of 2; Washington 1 of 4. Goalies—N.Y. Rangers, Lundqvist 1-4-0 (27 shots-24 saves). Washington, Neuvirth 4-1-0 (27-26). A—18,398 (18,398).
Around the league: Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook will be a game-time decision tonight in Game 6 against the Canucks. He has missed two games since taking a blow to the head from Raffi Torres. … Predators wing Martin Erat, whose 50 regular-season points tied for the team high, will be a game-time decision tonight in Game 6 against the Ducks. He missed Game 5 with an upper-body injury sustained on a hit that got Jarkko Ruutu suspended for a game. … Jason Pominville, Buffalo's top two-way forward, will sit out today's Game 6 against the Flyers with a left leg injury sustained in a collision with the Flyers' James van Riemsdyk. … Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, out 21 games with a broken right hand, took part in his most extensive drills.
Late Friday: The Predators moved a win from their first series win, beating the Ducks 4-3 in Game 5 on Jerred Smithson's goal 1:57 into overtime. Shea Weber tied it with 35.3 seconds left in regulation for Nashville, which had never won an overtime playoff game (0-3), never won a Game 5 (0-5) and never won three games in its five series.