NEW YORK -- When the New York Rangers last played the Washington Capitals, Chris Kreider was 1,000 miles away from Madison Square Garden, preparing to play for Boston College at the NCAA Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla.
Saturday, when the teams met in the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Boxford, Mass., native made sure to announce his presence on Broadway.
Playing in just his sixth professional game, Kreider scored a goal and assisted on another, lifting the Rangers to a 3-1 win over the Washington Capitals in the opening game of the series.
"Surreal," Kreider said. "I think that's my favorite word right now; I use it a lot."
Kreider's play in the third period elicited another "surreal" moment -- a chant of his last name from the sellout Garden crowd -- and while coach John Tortorella isn't leading any cheers, he has made no secret of the fact that he's impressed with the team's first-round pick from the 2009 draft.
"Forget about what he's doing on the ice," Tortorella said. "The mental part of the game, as far as him trying to make a difference every shift . . . it's really good stuff for a young kid."
Before Kreider made a difference in the third period, though, there was no difference between the Rangers and Capitals, who were deadlocked at one goal apiece after 40 minutes.
The Rangers held the Capitals to one shot on goal through the first 12 minutes, but Washington ended the scoreless first period with a 6-4 shots advantage, not counting a Nicklas Backstrom shot that rang off the goalpost behind goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
The Rangers got on the board 12:28 into the second period on the first goal of the playoffs by Artem Anisimov, who took a pass behind the net and curled in front to put the puck between Braden Holtby's legs for the opening goal.
"Nobody was in front," Anisimov said, "so I just brought the puck to the net and got a lucky bounce."
The Capitals equalized with 5.1 seconds remaining in the middle frame on the second goal of the playoffs by Jason Chimera. After a late flurry of opportunities for the Rangers, the Capitals made a late rush the other way, which culminated in Brooks Laich finding Chimera streaking toward the net and Chimera beating Lundqvist low.
"That could have hurt us big time," Lundqvist said, "but we came in here, regrouped, talked about staying patient and just let the game come to us."
The game came to the Rangers seven minutes into the third, as they retook the lead on the second goal of the playoffs for Kreider. Kreider took a pass from Derek Stepan in open ice, skated into the Washington zone and unloaded a slap shot from just behind the left-wing faceoff circle that whizzed past Holtby and into the net.
"Steps (Stepan) made an unbelievable pass," Kreider said. "I was kind of gassed, because it was the end of the shift. Usually, I would try to take that to the net. I don't usually take slap shots -- that was a little unorthodox for me -- but I just tried to put it on the cage and it went in."
It was the second winning goal for Kreider in three games. He also scored the game-winner in the Rangers' 3-2 win in Ottawa in the sixth game of the conference quarterfinals.
The Blueshirts doubled their advantage 90 seconds later on the third goal of the playoffs by Brad Richards. The former Conn Smythe winner took a pass from Kreider along the left-wing boards and skated toward Holtby along the goal line, finally tucking the puck between Holtby's pads.
"It's a tough game to stay into it, mentally wise," Holtby said, "and I didn't do a good enough job of it."
The Capitals turned up the pressure in the final minutes, including more than two minutes with Holtby pulled for the extra skater, but the Rangers held strong to preserve the victory.
"We had our chances and we didn't bury them," Washington coach Dale Hunter said. "We hit a few posts and their goalie was good. We lost the game."
Game 2 will be played Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
NOTES: The Rangers were without forward Brandon Dubinsky, who was injured in the third period of Thursday night's series-clinching win over the Senators. Dubinsky had one point in the first round, an assist on Dan Girardi's winning goal. . . . Steve Eminger, a former first-round pick of the Capitals who played in the organization until 2007-08, skated for the Rangers as a seventh defenseman. It was his first action of the playoffs. . . . Stephane Matteau, whose famous overtime goal against the New Jersey Devils sent the Rangers on to the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, was in attendance Saturday, as were New York Jets defensive tackle Sione Pouha and tennis great John McEnroe.
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