The Rangers returned from the holiday break Friday night and battled back from a pair of deficits along the way, but Eric Fehr's late goal lifted the Washington Capitals past the Rangers 3-2 at the Verizon Center in the 200th all-time regular season meeting between these two rivals.
With the teams skating 4-on-4 following coincidental minors to Mats Zuccarello and Troy Brouwer at 14:15 of the third period, Fehr ripped a long right-wing shot past Rangers goalie Cam Talbot to the blocker side for the game-winning tally. The goal was Fehr's sixth of the season and came as he was appearing in his 300th game as a Washington Capital.
Talbot was making his third consecutive start in goal for the Rangers following wins over the Wild and the Maple Leafs last Sunday and Monday respectively. He lost for only the third time in 11 decisions this season, and surrendered more than two goals for only the second time in 13 appearances (11 starts).
Trailing 2-1 entering the third period, the Rangers did not waste any time before pulling even, and did so by scoring a shorthanded goal. Sprung on a long pass from Ryan McDonagh, Carl Hagelin sped behind the Capitals defense and beat Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer with a backhand shot between the pads just 17 seconds into the final period of play. The goal was Hagelin's ninth of the season, tying him for tops on the team, and fourth in the past six games.
The Rangers came within inches of taking their first lead of the night moments before Fehr's go-ahead goal when Dan Girardi rang a shot off the post. Though lucky on that shot, Grubauer was outstanding in beating the Rangers for the second time in three weeks, finishing with 38 saves on Friday.
The red-hot Nicklas Backstrom scored a seemingly backbreaking goal with 1:05 remaining in the second period to snap a 1-1 tie and put the Rangers in a one-goal hole. After the visitors peppered Grubauer with one glorious scoring opportunity after another over the course of multiple shifts, the Capitals finally came back the other way with Backstrom sneaking behind McDonagh to accept a Steve Oleksy pass off the right-wing boards before beating Talbot from the right circle for his tenth goal of the season.
Backstrom, who entered play as the NHL's fourth-leading scorer with 42 points, continued his scorching roll with his second period goal. The Caps center now has 16 points in his last eight games, and 18 in his last 10.
That his goal came late in the period and put the Rangers at a deficit was hard enough for the Rangers; but the fact that it happened after a string of dominating shifts in the midst of another really good second period just added to the team's misery. The Rangers outshot the Capitals 18-13 over the middle 20 minutes, but Grubauer made huge stops on J.T. Miller, Dominic Moore, and Benoit Pouliot, among others, right before Backstrom scored.
However the Rangers provided their own backbreaking goal on Hagelin's shortie 17 seconds into the third period, taking the wind out of the home team's sails, especially since Washington was gunning for a 3-1 lead skating on the power play with a fresh sheet of ice.
The Capitals had taken a 1-0 lead at 6:55 of the first period when Mike Green's power play slap shot eluded Talbot, but the visitors responded to tie the game just 1:37 into the second period. Pouliot deflected Brad Richards' shot past Grubauer for his sixth goal of the season, and team-high tying fourth on the power play.
Pouliot established a new career high by extending his point-scoring streak to six consecutive games.
Washington thought they had taken a 2-1 lead at 10:10 of the middle period when Eric Fehr's power play shot from the low slot seemingly beat Talbot, as credited by the on-ice officials. However after a video review the goal was erased from the scoreboard as it was clear he puck had deflected off Talbot's stick, and then the right post, before caroming back underneath the Rangers goalie without crossing the goal line.
Earlier in the day Marc Staal took part in the Rangers' morning skate, saying afterwards that he is set to participate in his first full practice on Saturday. This news became even more important when defenseman Anton Stralman suffered an undisclosed injury during the first period Friday and did not play the remainder of the game. There was no further word on Stralman's condition, or injury, after the game was over.