Rick Nash--individually--and the Rangers--as a collective group--continued their recent hot streaks Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, with Nash helping pace the Blueshirts to their third straight win, a 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals, by scoring a pair of goals. The Rangers winning ways now include six victories in their last seven games, and an 11-3-1 record in their last 15 contests.
That Nash and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist are playing some of their best hockey of the season at present, while the team is on its best roll so far this year, is likely no coincidence. Nash and Lundqvist are looked upon for greatness, and both are delivering, with the rest of the lineup settling into a terrific groove in which all four forward lines are well-balanced and productive, and the three defense pairs are playing solid two-way hockey.
Nash now has seven goals in his last eight games, including three in victories over the Senators and Capitals this weekend. He now leads the Blueshirts with 14 goals, despite missing 17 games due to a concussion earlier this season. Lundqvist, who watched Cam Talbot backstop Saturday's 4-1 win in Ottawa, stopped 24 shots Sunday and has now allowed two goals or fewer in six consecutive starts, a total of eight over that span.
The Rangers pounced on Capitals rookie goaltender Philipp Grubauer--who had already beaten New York twice this season-- for three goals on eight shots before Washington head coach Adam Oates removed him from the game after just 17 minutes 49 seconds had been played. It was Nash who set the tone for the game by stealing the puck from Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov by the Washington blueline on his first shift of the night, and proceeded to beat Grubauer with a breakaway backhand just 70 seconds into the contest.
Nash made it 2-0 Rangers at 16:06 of the first period when he powered a right-wing shot past Grubauer for a 5-on-3 power play goal assisted by Brad Richards and Ryan McDonagh. It was the second straight game that the Rangers scored during a two-man advantage; and New York now has at least one power play goal in seven of its last nine contests.
Two seconds after the 5-on-4 portion of that power play ended, Derek Stepan hammered a long slap shot past Grubauer to give New York a 3-0 lead at 17:49. Oates immediately tapped Braden Holtby on the shoulder and told him to remove the baseball hat and go in to replace Grubauer. The goal was Stepan's ninth of the season, and second in as many games after a 13-game goal scoring drought.
Washington scored a 5-on-3 power play goal of their own just 59 seconds into the second period to cut the Rangers lead to 3-1. Alex Ovehckin rifled his league-best 35th goal past Lundqvist, off a Mike Green feed, scoring his NHL-leading 13th power play goal in the process. It was also the first goal Ovechkin had scored in four games against the Rangers this season, and the first against New York since Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last spring, a stretch of nine games without a goal against the Rangers.
However any momentum the Capitals hoped to carry from Ovechkin's goal was short-circuited first by Ryan Callahan's shorthanded goal less than two minutes later, and then by Washington's own parade to the penalty box as the period progressed.
Charging hard down the middle of the ice, Callahan beat Orlov to the rebound of Dominic Moore's hard left wing shot and buried his ninth goal of the season past Holtby before crashing into the net and sending it flying into the back boards at 2:25. It was a hugely important goal for the Blueshirts, and their third shorthanded this season.
Though the Rangers did not score again the rest of the second period they kept momentum on their side as Washington took three consecutive penalties. Martin Erat--who was penalized three times Sunday night--took the most egregious penalty in that second-period stretch when he jabbed Brian Boyle in the groin as Boyle lay prone on the ice.
Next up for the red-hot Rangers will be a home contest against the Islanders on Tuesday night at The Garden.