This bounce was three games in the making for the New York Rangers. Instead of being on the verge of elimination, the No. 8 seed suddenly has something to build on.
After a pair of frustrating losses in Washington, the Rangers made the most of their return home Sunday and beat the Capitals 3-2 to cut their series deficit to 2-1.
Brandon Dubinsky netted the winning goal with 1:39 left by bouncing a shot off defenseman Karl Alzner, goalie Michal Neuvirth, and then the stick of Alex Ovechkin to give New York the win. After the Rangers managed only one goal in two losses at Washington, Dubinsky, Vinny Prospal and Erik Christensen figured out young Neuvirth and got their club back into the series.
”Bang bang … it was in the net,” Dubinsky said. ”You try to make a conscious effort to shoot, jam the net, and make it tougher on Neuvirth, and we did that.”
The Rangers will be the first to admit that they likely won’t score many highlight-reel goals. Their best route to success is to shoot and crash the net to get some ugly ones. New York fought all the way for this one, holding three one-goal leads.
Now the Rangers can get even in the Eastern Conference matchup when they host Game 4 on Wednesday night.
Dubinsky’s fortunate winner came while the teams were playing 4-on-4. Washington had erased a 2-1 deficit with 5:12 remaining when Mike Knuble scored a power-play goal.
”That’s the way we have to do it,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. ”We don’t play any other way. We’re just not good enough. We have to grind.”
Henrik Lundqvist was sharp again, and made 24 saves for the win. New York got 35 shots through on Neuvirth after a combined 47 in the opening two games – 2-1 and 2-0 losses.
Ovechkin had a goal and an assist for the Capitals, 1-4 in series in which they lead 2-0. The Rangers have erased only one such deficit to advance.
”All three games have been wars, battles,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. ”It’s not a question of throwing different strategy at them. We know what they’re going to do. I don’t think we’re going to change overnight.”
Showing the resiliency they displayed all season, the Rangers shook off a disallowed goal at the end of the second period and a pair of blown one-goal leads to rescue their playoff hopes against the top-seeded Capitals.
”That’s been our identity,” defenseman Dan Girardi said. ”When we find some adversity, when we stick to the game plan we seem to win games. When we don’t, and deviate from the game plan, that’s when we lose.”
Dubinsky thrust his arms in the air, and the towel-waving home crowd burst out in joy and relief when the Rangers got ahead of Washington to stay. It took away the sting of lost leads and a 1-for-7 performance on the power play, including a lengthy two-man advantage that failed in the first period.
”The difference between winning and losing with this team is really small,” Lundqvist said. ”One game can change a lot. It really does.”
The building fell silent when Knuble tied it while top forward Marian Gaborik sat in the penalty box after being called for cross-checking. Gaborik has been at the center of the Rangers’ scoring woes, recording no goals and four assists in the past 12 games. He is pointless in the series.
Prospal gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead when he slammed in a rebound of defenseman Marc Staal’s shot, a drive that struck Neuvirth high in the shoulder and caromed to Prospal near the right post at 8:01 of the third.
The Rangers thought they took their second lead in the final second of the second period when the puck got past Neuvirth as the buzzer sounded. The green light above the net went on, signaling that time ran out.
While there was no dispute that the puck was in the net, replay officials determined that the clock struck 0.0 before the puck completely went over the line. The teams left the ice immediately after the announcement of no goal. That break helped the Capitals carry the momentum they gained moments earlier into the intermission, but the Rangers owned the third period.
”No one was down,” Tortorella said. ”They just continued to try to go about their business. We have played at a level or a type of style as each game has gone by, and I think we’ve gotten better. We’ll have to be better in Game 4 because Washington is going to be better.”
The Capitals had been stymied by the Rangers’ defense just as they had shut down New York’s offense at home. Washington finally broke through when Ovechkin got to a feed from Jason Arnott at the top of the crease and steered the puck in with 59.2 seconds left in the second to make it 1-1.
Ovechkin has 22 goals in 31 NHL playoff games.
New York had grabbed its second lead of the series 5:30 into the second period when Christensen fired a shot from the bottom edge of the right circle over Neuvirth’s left shoulder and under the crossbar through a screen. It was New York’s second power-play goal in 35 chances, dating to the final nine games of the regular season.
Until then, the 23-year-old Neuvirth had held the Rangers to just one goal in the first 139 minutes of the series — a second-period score by defenseman Matt Gilroy in New York’s overtime loss in Game 1.
The Capitals know they will have to show more discipline so the Rangers don’t get many chances to get their power play clicking.
”You can’t be short-handed seven times,” Boudreau said. ”We knew they were going to be antagonistic and we’ve got to learn to take it.”
Notes: The Rangers were 0 for 4 on the power play in the first two games of the series and 0 for 3 in Game 3 before Christensen scored. … It was Christensen’s first NHL playoff goal in 15 games. … The Capitals lost in regulation for the first time since acquiring Arnott from New Jersey (12-1-1). … Referee Chris Rooney sustained a leg injury in the second period and didn’t return. He was replaced by backup Frederick L’Ecuyer.