(Reuters) - The New York Rangers scored third period goals 90 seconds apart to beat the Washington Capitals 3-1 on Saturday and draw first blood in their Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semi-final.
With just one day to savor and recover from a draining seven-game first round series with the Ottawa Senators, the Rangers were back on the Madison Square Garden ice celebrating another victory.
The Rangers broke open a tight contest early in the third when rookie Chris Kreider and Brad Richards tallied in quick succession to seize control.
Kreider, who earlier this month was playing college hockey, triggered the burst when he raced in over the blue line and unleashed a blistering slap shot past neminder Braden Holtby's outstretched glove.
Before the capacity crowd had finished celebrating they were back on their feet again when Richards, on a setup from Kreider, added some insurance by stick handling in from the boards and flicking the puck between the Washington netminder's pads.
"We got that big goal and got the crowd into it and then we went out and followed that up," Richards told reporters.
"That's part of the momentum swings we talk about. Instead of maybe getting one, you maybe get two or three in that five, 10 minutes where you get momentum.
"It ended up good where we followed it up with another big goal and a two-goal lead with Hank in net."
The game was expected to be a tight, defensive struggle and for a period-and-a-half it was just that with Vezina Trophy finalist Henrik Lundqvist manning the New York net and Capitals sensation Holtby holding the fort at the other end.
Neither netminder was overworked, however, with the Rangers managing just 14 shots on Holtby while the Capitals tested Lundqvist 18 times.
"It's a tough game to stay into it, mentally wise," said Holtby. "And I didn't do a good enough job of it."
After a scoreless opening period, the Rangers broke the deadlock midway through the second when Artem Anisimov dug the puck out from behind the Washington net, swung out in front and slammed it past Holtby.
But the second period ended in a draw when Jason Chimera scored with four seconds left in the frame to send the teams into the intermission level at 1-1.
Game Two of the best-of-seven series is set for Monday in New York.
"It's going to be a grind and we're just going to play our game," said Rangers coach John Tortorella. "We're not changing anything as far as how we go about our business."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)