NEW YORK – Braden Holtby was making save after save – 29 of them, in fact, through 27 minutes of play. But then, finally, the Rangers found a way past the second-year Capitals netminder.
It took a while longer for the Rangers to get the lead, but when they did, it was the beleaguered power play that connected on a tic-tac-toe passing play in the third that put the Rangers in front for good.
The game started off-kilter for the Rangers (8-5-1), who allowed a goal just 1:19 into the game on a point-blast by John Carlson just moments after Eric Fehr rang the bar on a rebound. But, after that, the Rangers went to work. They had seven of the next eight shots on goal, and outshot the Capitals 20-8 in the period.
Still, they trailed 1-0. It took until their 30th shot of the evening, 7:39 into the second period. Carl Hagelin tipped in Ryan McDonagh’s wrister from the point for Hagelin’s fifth goal in his last four games, It’s the fourth consecutive game he’s scored.
“We never stopped grinding and that’s when you know sooner or later the puck is going to go in,” Hagelin said. “You have 60 minutes to get that goal and the way we played, we were in their zone most of the time and they didn’t create much.”
“It could have been one of those games – we’ve blown a couple leads the prior two games, it’s just not going well – I thought it’s the best pace we’ve played with, the first half of that game,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “We just stayed with it.”
It took some hard work defensively – while the Rangers were credited with only 12 blocked shots, their active sticks were all over the Capitals in all three zones.
But most of all, it took a power-play goal. The Rangers, who came into the game an NHL-worst 5-for-48 on the man advantage, tallied a brilliant man-up tally at 4:25 of the third.
Off Brad Richards’ face-off win, Rick Nash skated to the middle of the ice, spun, and fed Richards. His pass to Del Zotto perfectly set the defenseman to make a cross-ice feed to Derek Stepan, who had the entire net to shoot at.
“Shooting the puck is something we’ve really tried to focus on – just getting pucks and bodies to the net,” said Stepan, who scored his third goal of the season. “When we do start scoring, if we play that way and we have shots like that and chances like that, eventually they’re going to go in.”
“We played the right way the whole night, aside from maybe a few minutes here and there,” Del Zotto said. “We were happy with the consistency of our play, and getting a power-play goal is huge. Hopefully that sparks things.”
The job still wasn’t done. Despite pummeling Holtby with 40 shots, it still took until the frantic final moments to secure the win. Ryan Callahan, credited with six blocks, was instrumental in holding the Capitals down during a power play with seven minutes remaining, and the rest of the Rangers defense held firm against the final Capitals’ surge.
“I think tonight we did a great job of keeping our composure and finding a way to get a win,” said Stepan. “We handled the surges well when we needed to. We played the way we needed to from start to finish.”
“We’ve been on the other end of that, where we haven’t played our best and Hank stands on his head for us,” Del Zotto said. “We knew if we stayed to our game-plan, kept playing the way we were, that we’d come out with a win.”
“I always look at them how you win,” Tortorella said. “At this point in time; I look at the last couple games when we buckled a little bit giving up some leads, I just liked the way we played. We weren’t concerned with being down, we stayed with our game and defended better. We were patient. That’s important. This was an important game the way we played tonight.”
The Rangers penalty-kill hasn’t allowed a goal in five games, going 16-for-16 over the span.
The Rangers are 4-0-1 in their last five games, and 7-2-1 in their last 10.
The Rangers are 18-3-2 in their last 23 games against the Southeast Division, 3-0-0 this season.
Rangers forward Darroll Powe left the game in the second period when he collided with Capitals forward Matt Hendricks in the neutral zone. Neither player saw the other until it was too late, and Powe appeared to hit his head violently against the ice while falling down.
Powe was very slow to recover, and needed the assistance of two teammates to leave the ice. Tortorella gave no update on his rugged forward after the game, other than to say Chris Kreider will remain with the Rangers until they have an update on Powe’s status.
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