MADISON SQUARE GARDEN — Bring on the Caps.
The New York Rangers beat the Ottawa Senators, 2-1, in the thrilling finale of their seven-game series Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
With the victory, the top-seeded Blueshirts move on to the Eastern Conference Semifinals to face the Washington Capitals, who edged the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in their Game 7 matchup a day earlier.
Goals by defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi in the second period propelled the Rangers to victory — though the star of the game was goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, whose stellar play in the net this season continued Thursday night with 26 saves.
The win sends New York to the conference semifinals for the first time since 2008.
Elated fans flooded out of the Garden Thursday night to celebrate the hard-fought victory.
"This is one of the greatest games of all time from one of the greatest series I've been to," said Paul Kelly, 41, from Brooklyn.
"The Caps are not going to be a problem. I'm telling you, we're going to take that series in 5 games."
The eighth-seeded Senators gave the Rangers all they could handle, taking a 3-2 lead in the series before the Blueshirts won the last two games to move on to the next round.
Before the puck dropped Thursday night, Bryan Lustig, 30, a lifelong Rangers fan, couldn't hide his pre-game nerves.
"Not one player wants to make a single mistake tonight," said the Wall Street day trader. "It's going to be a very intense game for both sides, but I think the Rangers will win, and we can go on and take the Stanley Cup this year."
After the game, hundreds of fans began chanting "We want the cup, we want the cup," as they streamed out of MSG.
Andy Bardua, 23, breathed a sigh of relief after the game.
"Listen, I skydived out of an airplane last summer from 14,000 feet, and I was nervous then," he said, "but I was more nervous about this game tonight than I was leaping out of a plane."
His brother, Evan Baruda 29, had high hopes moving forward in the playoffs.
"This is it," he said. "This was Game 7 and we won it, and we're going to win the cup. We want the cup."