NEW YORK -- It may be fitting the Capitals season ended in the city that never sleeps.
Because after Saturday nights 2-1 loss to the Rangers in Madison Square Garden there will be plenty of sleepless nights wondering what might have been.
Henrik Lundqvist evoked haunting memories of Jaroslav Halak and made goals by Brad Richards and Michal Del Zotto stand up as the Capitals saw their promising playoff run come to a screeching halt on the corner of 33rd Street and 8th Avenue.
The win sends the top-seeded Rangers to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1997. Theyll host the sixth-seeded Devils at MSG Monday night and attempt to become the first NHL team to win the Stanley Cup after playing 14 games in Rounds 1 and 2.
The loss sends the Capitals into another summer wrought with questions.
Will Dale Hunter answer the pleas of his players and return as head coach?
Will general manager George McPhee decide to keep unrestricted free agents Alex Semin and Dennis Wideman? Will he even entertain the idea of trading Alex Ovechkin for Rick Nash?
Those are questions that will be addressed soon enough. But when the Caps look back on their playoff series loss to the Rangers, they will most remember blowing a one-goal lead with 6.6 seconds remaining in Game 5, then losing it in overtime.
The Rangers carried a 1-0 lead into the third period and when Del Zotto knocked Ovechkin off the puck then beat him down the ice to score his second goal of the playoffs with 9:55 remaining in regulation it appeared all hope was lost.
But just 38 seconds later Roman Hamrlik floated a shot through a Troy Brouwer screen and over Lundqvists right shoudler to breathe life into the Capitals.
The Caps had a chance to tie the score when Ruslan Fedotenko took a delay of game penalty, but nearly allowed a shorthanded goal. And when Nicklas Backstrom was slapped with a slashing penalty with 7:03 to play, the Rangers gained the momentum and
never let go.
In fact, the Caps couldnt pull Braden Holtby until 1 minute remained in the game.
After two days of talking about the importance of scoring first the Rangers wasted no time doing it.
Richards did the honors just 92 seconds into the contest when he ripped a 30-footer past a screened Braden Holtby for his sixth goal of the playoffs and a 1-0 lead.
Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto started the play with a long stretch pass to Carl Hagelin, who fed Richards at the top of the left circle. With Marian Gaborik charging the net and tying up Capitals defenseman John Carlson in front, Richards hammered a shot under the catching glove of Holtby.
The team that had scored first had won every game in the series, but with 58 minutes, 28 seconds of regulation still remaining, the Caps figured they had plenty of time to mount a charge. And in the second period they did.
The Caps outshot the Rangers 12-11 in the second frame but had a distinct advantage in scoring chances.
Henrik Lundqvist was the difference. The Hart Trophy and Vezina Trophy finalist was brilliant, losing his stick while stopping Alex Semin on a backhander; kicking out his right pad to stop Mike Knuble at the side of the net; and getting his right leg on a shot by Troy Brouwer from in close.
The Caps pinned the Rangers in their own zone for long stretches in the second period, but had seven shots blocked by the Rangers in the period and entered the final period trailing for the first time in 14 playoff games.