Washington Capitals' Alexander Semin (28) and Alex Ovechkin (8), both...

Washington Capitals' Alexander Semin (28) and Alex Ovechkin (8), both from Russia, celebrate Ovechkin's goal in the third period of Game 1 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series with the New York Rangers. (April 13, 2011) Credit: AP

WASHINGTON -- Alex Semin hadn't scored in 14 playoff games, but he broke his drought in a big way Wednesday.

The Caps winger scored with 1:36 left in overtime to lift the Capitals to a 2-1 win over the Rangers in the first game of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Eastern Conference first-round series.

Marc Staal, who had played more than 33 minutes, couldn't clear the puck from the zone, and Jason Arnott, at the right point, slid a pass to Semin who beat Henrik Lundqvist with a laser.

"I tried to move over but I just didn't have time to react," said Lundqvist, who kept the Rangers in the game with 31 saves. "It was a hard one, the puck was going up and down a little bit; he fired it real hard. It's tough, you want to try to be the difference and get your team a win. You have to expect the games are going to be like this. You have to minimize your mistakes. They're definitely waiting for a mistake and then they come pretty fast."

Said Staal: "Anytime you lose in overtime, you feel like it got away because you only needed one goal to win. It's disappointing. We win as a team and lose as a team. We'll come back and try to win the next one."

The Rangers led 1-0 on Matt Gilroy's first playoff goal at 1:56 of the third, but with 6:16 left, Alex Ovechkin jammed at the puck from the left post in a scrum with the puck under Lundqvist's right pad, and it trickled into the net before the whistle was blown. The Caps celebrated, the Rangers protested and a video review let the goal stand.

"It's underneath me and I think the whistle's going to come, so I move, and it just crossed the line," Lundqvist said. "Sometimes they're real fast on blowing the whistle, but it is what it is. I'm kind of stuck in that position, you hope for a whistle or someone to come and clear the puck . . . I felt like we were playing really well right after our goal."

Playing in his first NHL playoff game at age 26, Gilroy, the North Bellmore native, one-timed Wojtek Wolski's pass to the right circle past Michal Neuvirth. Brandon Prust had started the cycle in the Capitals zone before Gilroy, a defenseman who scored just three goals all season, sneaked into shooting position.

Lundqvist was superb -- and a bit lucky -- stopping wide-open shots and a breakaway by Nicklas Backstrom through two periods and the Rangers defense had kept Ovechkin off the scoresheet, despite a withering Capitals attack during which Semin and Arnott hit iron.

"I think playoff series are surges, going against you, going with you," Rangers coach John Tortorella said before the game. "You get a win under your belt, you have a surge going with you. It changes quickly. That's very important in succeeding in these types of series, how you handle surges. There's a lot of different things come out of a win and a loss."

For the first two periods, the Capitals, who won the Conference title and closed the season 16-3-1, did all the surging.

With the Verizon Center at ear-splitting volume, the Rangers barely survived the first, escaping two power plays without a goal and blocking nine shots overall in the period.

"I wouldn't say we proved anything," said Caps defenseman Mike Green. "The game we played tonight was what we were preparing for all year. It just paid off."

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