Rangers Top Capitals 2-1, Advance to Eastern Conference Finals

Michael Del Zotto scored the game-winning goal midway through the final period as the top-seeded New York Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals 2-1 to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1997.

The Rangers, who took the best-of-seven series 4-3, are 5-0 in Game 7s at Madison Square Garden in New York. This was the seventh playoff series between the Capitals and Rangers, who have now won three of them.

“It was awesome -- MSG, Game 7,” Rangers’ team captain Ryan Callahan told reporters. “Right from the anthem and warm-ups, it was loud. This is what you play for all year. To have that home ice advantage to make sure that if you get to a game seven, it’s in your barn.”

New York will play the New Jersey Devils in the National Hockey League’s conference finals, which begin tomorrow on the Rangers’ home ice. The Phoenix Coyotes host the Los Angeles Kings tonight in Game 1 of the Western Conference series in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“All four are great teams,” said Brad Richards, who scored the first goal last night for the Rangers. “Now everyone has the same chance.”

The Rangers have played 14 games in the first two rounds of the playoffs after needing seven contests to defeat the Ottawa Senators in the first series. Since playoff expansion, no club has played the maximum 14 games and gone on to win the Stanley Cup.

Richards scored the Rangers’ first goal with a 31-foot slapshot one minute, 32 seconds into the first period.

After a scoreless second period, Del Zotto scored with a 21-foot snapshot at 10:05 for the Rangers, while Roman Hamrlik got his first playoff goal with a 26-foot wristshot 38 seconds later.

“This was a big matchup series,” Richards said in a televised interview. “We did a good job with it. We’ve played this way all year. It’s been tight.”

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