The off-color chants directed at Alex Ovechkin started eight minutes before the Rangers and Capitals lined up for the national anthem Saturday night.

And they continued when Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal began, complete with booing every time the Capitals star got his stick on the puck -- or did pretty much anything -- during the Rangers' series-clinching 2-1 victory.

But the fans' reaction to him didn't much matter in the end. All that did matter was the bottom line, which left Ovechkin dejected and emotional in the losing locker room at Madison Square Garden.

He called it a "terrible'' feeling, made worse by how close he felt to this year's Capitals.

Ovechkin certainly had an active evening, finishing with 20:54 of ice time, two shots on goal, four hits and several good scoring chances.

But he never did score, and Michael Del Zotto took the puck from him on the play that ended in Del Zotto scoring the Rangers' second goal.

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The Rangers did their best to make his life as miserable as their fans did, banging him around at every opportunity.

"Most of the time, if we had an opportunity to shoot the puck, we didn't have one guy in front of the net, because if sees it, he's going to save it," Ovechkin said.

The postseason has been a strange ride for Ovechkin, who in the first round had his time slashed by coach Dale Hunter.

His minutes remained limited for most of the series against the Rangers, but he managed to make a difference, scoring in each of the Caps' three wins through six games.

The transition to Hunter's emphasis on grinding and shot-blocking has not been easy for Ovechkin, but he's adapting.

It all was part of an unanticipated postseason run that brought the Capitals to the brink of consecutive playoff upsets of the East's top two seeds.

"It's terrible for me right now,'' Ovechkin said. "All I can say is we do have the best team. It's part of the best team I've been on -- the group of guys, the atmosphere. It's unbelievable to play."