By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
In one of their most complete efforts of the season the Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals 2-1 Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. The Blueshirts have now earned at least one point in each of their last five games, posting a 4-0-1 record in that stretch.
Despite dominating nearly the entire game, the Rangers did not take their first lead until the 4:25 mark of the third period when Derek Stepan's power play goal lifted the Blueshirts to a 2-1 advantage. Stepan completed a pretty tic-tac-toe passing sequence which started with Rick Nash's quick pass to Brad Richards inside the blueline, continued as Richards zipped a cross-ice feed to Michael Del Zotto on right wing, and finished when Del Zotto alertly found Stepan open by the left post.
That it took a near-perfect passing play for the Rangers to score against Braden Holtby was not surprising. Holtby, the Caps playoff hero who gave the Rangers fits last spring before New York eventually ousted Washington in seven games, was simply terrific Sunday night. In the midst of a middling season, so far, Holtby played perhaps his best 60 minutes of the season Sunday, stopping 38 of 40 Ranger shots.
It took until the Rangers 30th shot on goal before they could dent the impressive Holtby. Perhaps not so surprisingly it was Carl Hagelin who finally got the Rangers on the scoreboard at the 7:39 mark of the second period.. Hagelin skated to the net and deflected Ryan McDonagh's shot from straightaway past Holtby for his sixth goal of the season, extending his goal-scoring streak to four consecutive games.
Nash earned the secondary assist on Hagelin's score, extending his point-scoring streak to four straight games. That Nash was even on the ice was a story in of itself as it was questionable right up through pre-game warmups whether or not the star forward would be in the Rangers lineup. Head coach John Tortorella stated before the game that Nash, who did not practice on Saturday, was "banged up" and would take warmups and then be a gametime decision as to whether or not he'd skate against the Caps. As a back-up plan, recently demoted Chris Kreider was recalled from the Connecticut Whale and took warmups as well, but ended up being a healthy scratch when Nash was declared fit enough to play.
Nash led the Blueshirts first-period barrage on Holtby by recording five of the team's season-best 20 shots on goal. Despite a vast disparity in zone-time and shots on goal, that Rangers exited that first period trailing 1-0 with John Carlson's rocket past Henrik Lundqvist just 1:19 into the game holding up because Holtby was simply sensational in keeping the home team off the scoreboard.
It would be difficult to select which of his 20 saves in the opening period was his best---that's how good the Rangers chances were, and how great Holtby had to be---but the pair he made on Jeff Halpern and Ryan Callahan with the Blueshirts shorthanded, but buzzing in front of Washington's net, seemed to stand out the most.
The Rangers lost the services of energetic forward Darroll Powe early in the second period after a violent, and accidental, center-ice colloision with Washington's Matt Hendricks. Powe flipped over Hendricks and crashed hard to the ice, and was down for some time before teammates Derek Stepan and Arron Asham helped the wobbly Powe skate to the team's dressing room runway. Powe did not return, and there was no furtehr update on his condition.
Despite allowing the early goal to Carlson, Lundqvist was rock solid the rest of the way for the Rangers. Lundqvist finished with 27 saves, and was particularly strong in a 10-save third period when Washington had its best offensive period of the game.
Also impressive was the Blueshirts penalty kill, which denied all four Washington power plays, including one with 6:56 remaining in regulation.