The Washington Capitals completed their back-to-back set of games this week with a visit to Manhattan to take on the New York Rangers. It was a story of two teams going in different directions. The Capitals entered the contest on a three-game winning streak, while the Rangers were stumbling since Thanksgiving with a record of 1-3-1 since the holiday.
However, the Rangers won both of the previous contests with the Caps this season, a 4-2 win at Madison Square Garden on November 14th and a 4-3 win in Washington two days later. Neither team could take control of the contest at the outset, although both teams enjoyed good scoring chances in the first period. Caps goalie Braden Holtby stoned Rick Nash from point blank range off a Caps turnover at the six-minute mark of the period, and Henrik Lundqvist foiled Jason Chimera on a breakaway 13 minutes into the period. That would be as close as either team would come to scoring in the first 20 minutes as the period closed scoreless.
The scoreless tie was broken by the Rangers early in the second period. Brad Richards held the puck at the left wing wall and waited for Marian Gaborik to settle into a seam in the Caps’s defense. Richards found him in the high slot, and Gaborik one-timed the puck past Holtby for the game’s first goal.
The Rangers added to their lead less than six minutes later on a power play when it was Richards on the receiving end of a feed, this one from Dan Girardi, who carried the puck deep and around the Caps net. When he emerged from the other side of the cage he managed to push the puck in front, even with Brooks Laich draped over him. From the edge of the left wing circle Richards chipped the puck over Holtby’s blocker to give the Blueshirts a 2-0 lead.
New York made it 3-0 late in the period when they caught the Caps chasing in their own zone. Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin played a game of cycling the puck in the right wing corner until Stepan stepped out toward the Capitals’ net, and Hagelin found him with a pass that Stepan redirected through Holtby’s legs for a three-goal lead that the Rangers took to the second intermission.
The third period started with the Rangers trying to consolidate their gains from the first 40 minutes and run out the clock in the last 20 minutes. For the first ten minutes, it worked as the home team suffocated the Caps in their own zone. But after getting a whistle in one of their rare forays into the Ranger end just after the midway point of the period, Marcus Johansson took a draw for the Caps to the left of Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Johansson tied up Derek Stepan just long enough for Mathieu Perreault to gather up the loose puck. Perreault ducked out from behind Johansson and Stepan and wristed a puck past a surprised Lundqvist at the 11:02 mark to get the Caps on the board. It was only the Caps’ second shot on goal of the period, but it touched off what would be a furious finish for the visitors.
The pressure the Caps applied to the Rangers did not, however, result in any production on the scoreboard until Nicklas Backstrom scored with 2:16 remaining in regulation. Dmitry Orlov sent a shot to the Ranger net that Lundqvist turned aside. However, Troy Brouwer was lurking and snapped the rebound at what looked like an open net. Lundqvist managed to get a skate on the puck, but could not defend the shot by Backstrom that came from that rebound, Backstrom lifting a backhand high into the net over a prone Lundqvist.
That would be all the Caps would get, though, even with the fierce pressure they applied in the last minute with Holtby pulled to the bench for an extra attacker. The Rangers escaped with their third win over the Caps in three tries so far this season, 3-2.
Rangers 3 – Capitals 2