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Rangers leave Alex Ovechkin alone, and pay for it

Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals battles for

Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals battles for the puck in the first period against Ryan McDonagh of the Rangers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at Verizon Center. (May 2, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON - How do you deal with Alex Ovechkin? You start by not leaving him alone on the power play.

The Rangers committed that defensive sin in the second period of Thursday night's 3-1 loss to the Capitals in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series. And they paid for it.

The Rangers were leading 1-0 when Mike Green sent a blast wide of Henrik Lundqvist. The puck caromed to Ovechkin, who put it in to Lundqvist's right at 6:59 for his 31st career playoff goal.

Ovechkin, the NHL's leading goal-scorer this season with 32, was able to swoop in unbothered because Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh was on Lundqvist's left and partner Dan Girardi was battling in front of the goalie.

The Capitals scored twice more in the period -- those two goals came 46 seconds apart -- and went on to take a 1-0 series lead.

Ovechkin finished with the one goal on five shots in 17:45. McDonagh, who picked up an assist on the Rangers' goal, literally will be the Rangers' first line of defense against him.

"You want to play against the best," McDonagh said earlier. "You want to help the team win, and if that's the position or role they want me in, I'm going to try to do it the best I can."

The Rangers' defensemen certainly were tested early. The Capitals took the first nine shots and scored on none of them. The Rangers' first shot came at 7:58 of the first.

The Rangers, who went into the series with a "don't commit dumb penalties" mantra, were whistled for too many men on the ice 34 seconds into the game. Even though they killed the penalty, it seemed a bad omen.

Ovechkin had a breakaway attempt late in the period and hit the side of the net. McDonagh was called for holding on the play, but the Rangers killed the first 33 seconds of the penalty as the first period came to an end and the last 1:27 when the second period opened.

But Washington's top-ranked power play finally converted on its fourth try when Ovechkin scored. The other two goals in the period came at even strength.

The Rangers held Ovechkin to three goals and an assist in last year's thrilling Eastern Conference semifinals, which the Rangers won in seven games. McDonagh played 53:21 in the Rangers' 2-1 triple-overtime victory in Game 3.

"You have a little bit of confidence from that," McDonagh said. "You remember the building, that atmosphere and how that crowd is. You draw on your past playoff experiences. And you want to play even better."

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