NEW YORK -- Chris Kreider is six games into his NHL career and days shy of his 21st birthday.
And yet the Stanley Cup playoffs are anything but overwhelming for the newest New York Rangers forward who has quickly become a hit on Broadway.
Kreider scored the go-ahead goal and then set up Brad Richards' insurance tally 90 seconds later in the third period to lift New York to a 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Saturday in the opening game of the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Kreider, who earlier this month helped Boston College win the NCAA championship, scored the second goal of his NHL career -- and these playoffs -- and he did it at the perfect time to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead 7:00 into the third.
Both Kreider's goals have been playoff game-winners. He also had the deciding marker in New York's Game Six victory at Ottawa when the Rangers played the first of two potential elimination games in the first round.
"I'm kind of at a loss for words," Kreider said. "I'm just trying to keep my head down and work hard. Whether or not the puck goes in, I'm just trying to play the same role I play every night and be consistent and be defensively reliable."
Kreider got into the Rangers lineup only because fellow rookie Carl Hagelin was suspended for three games when he elbowed Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson in Game Two. Kreider's play kept him on the ice even after Hagelin returned, and he is just one goal off the team lead through eight games of the playoffs.
Despite not yet playing a regular-season game, Kreider is already hearing his name celebrated at Madison Square Garden. He is the first player to win an NCAA title and make his NHL debut in that year's playoffs since John Byce did it with Boston in 1990.
"It's a surreal experience," said Kreider, whose birthday is on Monday -- the same day as Game Two. "I got goose bumps, obviously. I was really tired after the goal, but I didn't feel so tired when they started chanting."
Richards made it a two-goal lead off a feed from Kreider, and gave a two-fisted punch into the glass behind goalie Braden Holtby to celebrate his third goal of the playoffs. It marked the first time that Washington trailed by two goals in the playoffs.
Henrik Lundqvist earned the win, and needed to make only 17 saves to do it. The Rangers mustered just 14 shots on Holtby, but scored on two in a row to put the game away.
Artem Anisimov scored in the first period for the Rangers, who played without injured forwards Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky. Boyle missed his third straight game because of a concussion sustained in Game Five of the first-round series against Ottawa. Dubinsky was hurt in the third period Thursday night when New York edged the Senators 2-1 to win Game Seven.
Defenseman Steve Eminger returned from injury to fill in, and saw limited action as a forward.
Jason Chimera scored the lone goal for the Capitals to tie it 1-1 in the closing seconds of the second period. Washington was coming off a seven-game victory over Boston in the first round.
The Rangers are trying to exact a measure of revenge against the Capitals, who eliminated New York from the playoffs last year and in 2009. The seventh-seeded Capitals have won four of the six previous postseason meetings, and they split four regular-season games this season against the East's top-seeded team.
Capitals star Alex Ovechkin felt the brunt of the venom from the fans, who booed him and sent derisive chants in his direction several times during the game.
"Two mistakes cost us in goals," Ovechkin said. "We talk about how we have to play much better and we have to step up. It's only one game. [Monday] it's going to be a new day, and we have to stay tight."
Derek Stepan made a crisp pass out of his end to Kreider. Capitals defenseman Mike Green aborted a trip to the bench and raced to get back into position, but Kreider ripped a the game-winner past Holtby before Green could stop him.