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Capitals stun Rangers, steal Game 1 on last-second goal

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Alex Ovechkin skated past Henrik Lundqvist seconds after rifling home the first goal of Game 1, and according to one national television account, was distinctly heard shouting “All series, baby, all series!” at the Rangers’ goaltender. But there’s no way the rest of this series can live up to the absolutely stunning finish to the opener.

The Blueshirts already are shockingly down a game in this second-round Eastern Conference playoff series after falling to the Capitals, 2-1, Thursday night at the silenced Garden on Joel Ward’s close-range goal with 1.3 seconds remaining.

Alain Vigneault was livid following the deciding score — but tight-lipped following the game — after defenseman Dan Boyle was hit high and driven into the corner boards by Nicklas Backstrom seconds before Ovechkin found Ward wide open in front for the game-winning dagger.

“It’s a tough one, it really stinks,” Lundqvist said. “Obviously the last few seconds there, I feel like we all just kind of stopped when Boyle went down. We lost our focus a little bit and gave up the last chance. . . . Whatever happens, we have to keep playing until the whistle.”

The Capitals celebrate in front of a stunned Henrik Lundqvist as Joel Ward scores the game-winning goal with 1.3 seconds left in the game.Frank Franklin II/AP

The Capitals celebrate in front of a stunned Henrik Lundqvist as Joel Ward scores the game-winning goal with 1.3 seconds left in the game.

Vigneault declined to give an update on Boyle’s health or comment about the officiating, but without seeing a replay, Marc Staal said the play “seems cheap” and “sounds like charging.”

The sides typically engaged in a multi-player skirmish on the time-expiring faceoff.

“What can you say at the end?” Vigneault said. “It was a hit, there were a couple of mistakes after that, and the puck ended up in the back of our net. . . . We had nobody in front.”

Braden Holtby allowed only Jesper Fast’s tying skate-deflection goal at 15:21 of the third among 32 shots for the Caps, who had dispatched the Islanders in a physical seven-game series in the opening round. Lundqvist played a strong game (27 saves), but even before their heist of a victory, the confident visitors certainly didn’t sound awed by the league’s regular-season champs.

“Statistically, media-wise, obviously we’re the underdog. But we don’t believe it in here as far as being overmatched,” Holtby said.

Mats Zuccarello remained sidelined for the Blueshirts after suffering a suspected concussion in the first round against Pittsburgh, but defenseman Kevin Klein returned to the lineup for the first time since an Ovechkin shot broke his left forearm on March 11.

Ovechkin — the league’s leading goal scorer in the regular season (53, including 25 on the power play) — opened the scoring with a blistering shot in the closing minutes of the first period. The three-time MVP fired a laser of a wrist shot over Lundqvist’s right shoulder from the left circle into the upper corner with Dominic Moore in the box at 18:13.

Kevin Hayes’ turnaround fling from the blue line deflected off Caps defenseman Jay Beagle’s stick and Fast’s skate to finally even matters with 4:39 left in regulation.

But just as overtime appeared a certainty, Boyle was crushed in the corner by Backstrom and crumpled to the ice. Ryan McDonagh admitted that he and others on the ice anticipated a whistle and let up as Ovechkin collected the puck behind the net and found Ward unmarked for the tap-in under Lundqvist a split-second before the final horn.

“You play till the end, I think they teach that in minor hockey,” Ward said.

“I saw Boyler get hit and go down, and I kind of hesitated just to kind of see,” McDonagh admitted. “I knew he was down, and I thought they were going to blow (the whistle).

“(Ovechkin) makes a good play out front and they banged it in with a second to go. (We are) a little shell-shocked right now.” 

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