By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist, and scored the game-winning goal in the fourth round of the shootout, as the Rangers dropped a 3-2 decision to the Washington Capitals Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. The Blueshirts did pick up a point in the standings despite the shootout defeat.
Henrik Lundqvist made 22 saves through 65 minutes of play, but was beaten by Alex Ovechkin in the second round of the shootout and then by Backstrom two rounds later. Braden Holtby made 30 saves for the Capitals, and was beaten only by Derek Stepan in the shootout's third round.
Lundqvist had made a pair of scintillating saves through traffic with the clock winding down in the third period to get the game to overtime, while Holtby did his part pinning his left leg to the post to make sure a Ryan Callhan tricky backhander did not sneak through only moments before.
After the visitors thoroughly controlled the first half of the opening period, skating to a 2-0 lead and an 11-4 shots advantage, momentum swung towards the Rangers after a pair of hugely-important shifts by the team's new-look fourth line featuring Arron Asham, Kris Newbury, and Darroll Powe.
The first of those shifts came at 14:12 of the opening period when Newbury---just recalled from the Connecticut Whale on Saturday and in the lineup Sunday for J.T. Miller who is nursing a sore left wrist---sprung Asham on left wing for a 2-on-1 rush up ice. Asham skated to the left circle. made a head fake, then ripped a tracer which beat Holtby top shelf glove side. It was a huge momentum-changing goal for the Rangers, and a sweet moment for Asham who had been sidelined the previous 15 games by a sore lower back, scoring his second goal of the season.
The fourth line was at it several minutes later with an outstanding shift pinning the Capitals in their own end for a long stretch before Powe was interfered with by Jason Chimera at the 17:31 mark, sending the Rangers to their first power play of the game. Twenty-five seconds later Karl Alzner was whistled for slashing Rick Nash who was splitting the defense and bulling his way towards the net, handing the Blueshirts a 5-on-3 power play.
Derek Stepan made the Caps pay just seven seconds into the two-man advantage, tying the game 2-2 at 18:03 when his sharp-angle shot from left wing fooled Holtby and crossed the goal line for his ninth goal of the season.
Washington had taken a 1-0 lead 7:56 into the game on a power play goal credited to Nicklas Backstrom. An Alex Ovechkin shot deflected twice on the way to Lundqvist before bouncing up and hitting Backstrom in the chest with the puck then rolling over the goal line.
Ovechkin made it 2-0 in favor of the Caps at 9:45 when he recahed out and deflected Steve Oleksy's shot past Lundqvist for his 16th goal of the season, extending his goal-scoring streak to five consecutive games in the process. But Asham and Stepan answered back later in the period, forging the 2-2 tie.
That score held up through the rest of the first period and through the entire middle stanza, setting the stage for a hugely important and exciting third period. To get to the final period even on the scoreboard the Blueshirts first had to kill off a Washington 5-on-3 power play 2:58 into the second when Dan Girardi went to the box for a delay of game penalty just 18 seconds after Brian Boyle had been whistled for a holding penalty. The Rangers threesome of Michael Del Zotto, Ryan Callahan, and Stepan did an incredible job on the kill---allowing only one shot on goal.
Late in the second period the Rangers had another close call when Mike Ribeiro's left-wing blast drilled Lundqvist in the face mask with one minute to play. Lundqvist lost his stick on impact, and he seemed woozy as play continued and the Capitals fired a rebound attempt off the post. Lundqvist recovered and was able to finish the game fortunately for the Blueshirts.
The closest the Rangers came to taking the lead before the second intermission was at the 11:10 mark when Marian Gaborik was sprung on a breakaway by a long Del Zotto pass. Gaborik went to the backhand, but his shot was denied by Holtby's left pad, and the score remained 2-2.
Early in the third period Callahan's right-wing bomb hit the near post, another near-miss for the Rangers.