For much of Game 7, Derek Stepan's job was to help shut down Alex Ovechkin's line. With a rare opportunity to get on the ice in overtime against a different center than Nicklas Backstrom, Stepan took full advantage.
He beat Eric Fehr on the offensive-zone draw, with help from Jesper Fast, who poked the puck to Keith Yandle. Yandle sent it to Dan Girardi, who got a shot through. Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby deflected the shot right onto Stepan's stick and he didn't miss sending the Rangers on to their third Eastern Conference final in four years.
"I didn't really do much," Stepan said from inside a throng of reporters after scoring his first playoff overtime goal of his career. "Jesper makes a great play, a huge play by him. It's a 50-50 puck, Jesper makes a great play to poke it back to Keith. We had a one-timer set up. [Girardi] gets it through and we get a fortunate bounce."
Stepan had lost 13 of 18 faceoffs to Backstrom in Game 7 and his line was on the ice when Ovechkin snapped the opening goal of the game past Henrik Lundqvist at 12:50 of the first. But Ovechkin's line wasn't terribly dangerous from then on, even though the Caps captain had six shots on goal.
"They're an elite line, those three guys made a great play on the first goal and they had some looks," Stepan said. "As a five-man unit, my line, Dan [Girardi] and [Ryan McDonagh], we were able to limit their chances and we were fortunate to get a goal."
"It's a hard thing going against elite scorers like that, you always have defense foremost in your head," defenseman Marc Staal said. "When you get your chances, you've got to take advantage of them and they did. Step's a very underrated defensive forward and very smart, always in the right position. He's been huge for us the last few games."
Stepan's last two games on Garden ice were indeed big: He set up two huge goals for the Rangers in Game 5, first on Chris Kreider's season-saving goal with 1:41 left in regulation, then the drop pass for McDonagh on the overtime winner that same night.
There's also a reason Stepan wears an alternate captain's 'A' on his sweater: After his goal produced some joyous on-ice moments and a quick chat with father Brad in the Rangers locker room, he was all business about what lies ahead.
"It's a lot of fun, it's something I won't forget for a while," Stepan said. "But we have a lot of work to do."