Washington Capitals defenceman John Erskine (4) watches as New York Rangers centre Derek Stepan, back, celebrates his goal in the third period Monday night in New York. (Kathy Willens/Associated Press)
The New York Rangers finally broke out of their power-play funk en route to a 4-3 victory over the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.
By Jay Greenberg, Special to CBC Sports
NEW YORK - The Rangers, down 0-2, with one goal in their last 116 minutes, came out for Game 3 like they were taking a standing eight count.
Gifted with a penalty by Alex Ovechkin just 1:03 into the game for a high hit on Derek Stepan, New York did the same nothing with its eighth power play of the series that it had done with the first seven.
Nick Backstrom redirected a John Carlson drive to make it 1-0 Washington. Ranger captain Ryan Callahan, trying anything to rouse his team, took a roughing penalty, the kind of move you make when you don't know what else to do. Madison Square Garden was squirming, the Rangers legs were wobbling, and the Caps seemed ready to make it a long night on the way to a short series.
And then Washington took five straight penalties, one incomprehensible following another that ultimately would leave the Caps huffing and puffing on a 6-on-4 in the final 1:54 for a tying goal that never came, and wondering how they ever got themselves in that position. Fans who have enjoyed just one trip to the finals in the 38-year history of the franchise, by now are hard to surprise.
The Rangers, outplayed most of the way down I-95 at even strength, got third-period tie-breaking goals by Arron Asham on a total coverage breakdown in the Washington end, then on a redirection by Stepan with 6:25 to go, and got their first win of the series, 4-3, and a feather in their caps for their resilience.
The Caps were the dunces.
"Too much in the box," said Washington defenceman Mike Green. "The offensive guys are sitting on the bench and it takes momentum, plus they get a goal on one of them."
Actually, in practice, the Rangers got a goal on two of them.
Brian Boyle used Green as a distraction just as Joel Ward, who had high-sticked Derick Brassard, was stepping back on the ice, and beat Braden Holtby to tie the game.
Eight seconds after Holtby had mindlessly tripped Rick Nash at the side of the goal, Brassard, set up Mats Zuccarello's pass off the sideboards, beat Holtby, too for the Rangers first official man-advantage goal in 10 opportunities in the series.
Nevertheless, Jay Beagle and Steve Oleksy continued a parade to the penalty box, interrupted only when Callahan interfered with Marcus Johansson coming through centre.
The Caps, men against boys at not-really-even strength, outshot the Rangers 10-2 the rest of the second period, and got the game tied 2-2, on Green's goal, before Matt Hendricks lost Asham early in the third period.
Coming uphill all the way by then, Washington came back for another tie when Jay Beagle tipped in a Jack Hillen drive. But Zuccarello made another play off the boards to get it to Nash, who found Stepan to put New York ahead for good.
It remained anyone's game to lose when Brad Richards, in one final fit of mindlessness, high-sticked Ovechkin coming through centre with the clock just under two minutes.
Coach Adam Oates pulled Holtby, and the Caps, playing it too smart for their own good, held the puck in virtually the final two minutes without getting a superior chance.
"They are protecting [Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist] so well, you don't want to throw a puck away so they can throw it down and get a shot at an empty netter," said Oates. "You try to make a smart play.
"It's hard because guys are such perfectionists they don't want to just throw it at the net. The ice is lousy, you don't want to put it in one of those guys' hands. Sometimes you should just try to get in there and get a rebound."
"The Rangers did a good job. It's playoffs, you aren't going to win every game. Obviously there are a lot of things we could fix."
Asked what those might be, Oates said. "These guys have been through this before."
He meant that in a good way, but a shudder nevertheless went down the spine of the fans of a franchise that is 4-5 in series in which it has held a 2-0 lead. The players change, the plot doesn't for a team that has yet to get past the second round in the Alex Ovechkin era.
The Rangers, who got Boyle and Marc Staal back in the lineup for Game 2, were allowed to wriggle away.
"We got some good minutes from Boyle and Brass [Brassard] and a number of people here tonight," said coach John Tortorella. "We're going to need that if we want to stay alive."
And the Caps are going to have to be a whole lot smarter if they want to put New York away.
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