Back on the east coast again after a difficult five-game swing through the Western Conference, the Rangers put together their most complete game of the season so far Wednesday night, shutting out the Washington Capitals 2-0 at the Verizon Center.
The win snapped a three-game losing skid in which the Rangers (2-4-0) were outscored 20-5 in San Jose, Anaheim, and St. Louis. Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 22 shots he faced to earn his 46th career regular season shutout; and he now has posted three straight shutouts---including Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last spring---against the Capitals.
Brad Richards notched a pair of assists to up his team-high points total to seven on the season as the visitors outshot their hosts 36-22.
After building momentum through a strong first period and an even stronger start to the second, the Raners finally broke through against Caps goalie Braden Holtby with a pair of goals less than two minutes apart midway through the middle stanza to grab a well-deserved 2-0 lead. That score held up into the second intermission where the Rangers also had a 32-14 shots advantage--with 21 of those shots on goal coming in the dominating second period.
John Moore put the visitors on the scoreboard first at 12:05 when his quick wrist shot from the high slot beat a seemingly-surprised Holtby. Richards slid the puck to Moore from behind the goal line, earning the first of his two assists on the night, while the young defenseman was credited with his first goal of the season.
The Rangers doubled their advantage at 13:51 when Richards centered a pass for Callahan cutting to the net. The puck bounced off the Ranger captain's stick and Callahan alertly batted the puck out of midair and past Holtby to give the Blueshirts a 2-0 lead. The goal was Callahan's third of the season---and third in the past two games.
Prior to scoring those goals the Rangers routinely pinned Washington in their own end of the ice, consistently won puck battles, and peppered Holtby from all angles with good scoring chances. The Rangers started the second period with their first power play of the game and ended it without a goal, but with much confidence after firing five sots on goal. Several minutes later the mixed line of Dominic Moore, Brian Boyle, and Derek Dorsett cycled so effectively that the Caps could not gain control of the puck for nearly a minute's worth of action. Then at 7:25 Richards rang a shot off the crossbar after a slick pass down low from Callahan. Less than five minutes later they were leading 1-0.
Lundqvist faced only six shots in that second period, and his best work came during the opening period when he made three key stops during a Washngton 5-on-3 power play that covered 55 seconds. Lundqvist and the Ranger penalty killers kept the league's second-ranked power play from scoring, finishing the night a perfect 4-for-4 against the vaunted attack led by Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, et al.
Contributions came from up and down the Rangers lineup with the top line of Richards-Derick Brassard-Callahan excelling at both ends of the ice all night long to set the right tone. Dorsett, who promised a bounce back game after three costly penalties in Saturday's 5-3 loss in St. Louis, delivered just that, playing a very strong, physical, and smart game. And the Rangers' defense corps played solidly in front of Lundqvist while working the puck quickly and efficently out of their own zone.
Michael Del Zotto did not play Wednesday night due to the flu, and his spot in the lineup was taken by Justin Falk. Challenged by head coach Alain Vigneault to play with more of an edge, Falk did just that in his limited ice-time, including a spirited fight with Tom Wilson 17:42 into the first period.
Already playing without injured star winger Rick Nash, the Rangers held their breath 50 seconds into the third period when Derek Stepan lay prone on the ice after seemingly taking an elbow to the head from Troy Brouwer. Stepan rose slowly to his feet, skated straight tothe dressing room, but returned about eight minutes later and finished the game.
The Rangers will face another Metropolitan Division foe in their next game Saturday night when the skate against the Devils at the Prudential Center.