Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

The Rangers have had far more ups than downs this season, and one of the keys to their success has been keeping the downs from lasting too long.

Friday night they demonstrated their resiliency once more -- and never in a more important moment.

"We're still alive," goaltender Henrik Lunqvist announced in the dressing room when it was over, an improbable 2-1 overtime victory over the Capitals in Game 5 of a second-round playoff series that appeared all but lost.

With 1:41 left in regulation at the Garden, Chris Kreider tied the score. And 9:37 into overtime, Ryan McDonagh won it.

So a core group that last season came back from a 3-1 deficit against the Penguins now has the Capitals sweating entering Game 6 on Sunday, their series lead down to 3-2.

"Going home now, there's a lot of pressure on them," Lundqvist said. "I'm sure they don't want to come here for another game."

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The dramatic finish was not a shocker solely because it happened so late, but because it happened against Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, who has baffled and frustrated the Rangers all series long, and was doing it again in Game 5.

So when the Caps broke through with the game's first goal with 9:06 left, things looked grim.

"Obviously it's a tough feeling, knowing how hard it is for us to score on that guy on the other end," Lundqvist said.

Kreider said the direness of the situation "really sunk in when they scored their goal."

But the Rangers kept at it, not wanting to go home with a Presidents' Trophy as an unwanted consolation prize.

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"That's the beauty of the playoffs," Lundqvist said. "Things can change extremely fast and your confidence can go from one side to the other."

It was the Rangers' 12th consecutive one-goal game in the playoffs, extending their NHL record, and the seventh time in 10 playoff games they have played to a 2-1 final. Another game finished 1-0.

It's been that kind of spring so far. Might there be a blowout somewhere on the horizon?

Don't count on it. But the Rangers demonstrated again they are equipped to handle whatever comes their way.

"We were pretty positive on the bench," said Derek Stepan, who set up both goals. "We felt we did a lot of good things for 60 minutes."

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It appeared the Rangers were toast after Curtis Glencross scored on a breakaway, given their ongoing scoring troubles. But Kreider got the puck past Holtby at last. It might have deflected in off a skate of the Capitals' Brooks Orpik.

Coach Alain Vigneault had asked for "unconditional love" from fans for Game 5, which lasted only until four minutes or so into the first period, when they began to chant, "Shoot the puck!" after Kreider passed up an open shot in favor of an errant pass.

Much later in the night, there only were cheers for him.

Mostly, the game was another taut goaltender duel, with Holtby and Lundqvist taking turns wowing the crowd.

Early on, Holtby got his leg pad in the way of a doorstep chance for Martin St. Louis off a lovely feed from Rick Nash. St. Louis remains scoreless in the playoffs, and Nash still has only one garbage-time goal against the Penguins.

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With 12:52 left in the second St. Louis was alone in front of Holtby, who snatched his shot out of the air with his glove.

After the Glencross goal, fans surely were nervous, but the Rangers insisted they were focused on the task at hand.

Said Marc Staal, "We were pretty quiet. It was pretty calm. I think we weren't too riled up . . . We knew we had a lot of work ahead of us."

For this one night at least, consider it done.