NEW YORK – Arron Asham, Brian Boyle, Derek Stepan, and Derick Brassard all have more goals this postseason than does Rick Nash.
These are the playoffs, and that’s the way it has to be.
Stepan’s deflection of Nash’s centering feed from the corner with 6:25 left carried the Rangers to a crucial 4-3 win over the Capitals at Madison Square Garden Monday night, in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The Rangers avoid falling into the abyss of a 3-0 series hole, and can knot the series at two games apiece here at the Garden on Wednesday.
With the MSG crowd roaring from the opening faceoff, Nicklas Backstrom silenced the capacity crowd when he opened the scoring 4:06 into the first on a deflection of John Carlson’s point-shot.
Just under nine minutes later, Brian Boyle brought the crowd, – and his teammates – back into the series by scoring just as Joel Ward’s high-sticking penalty was expiring.
“We didn’t start off the way we wanted to,” said Asham. “We were a little lackadaisical. That goal by [Boyle] kind of rallied the guys.”
“He could have been one of our best players tonight,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella of Boyle, who scored his fourth career postseason goal in 25 games.
That’s the way it has to be in the playoffs. Nash, despite skating nearly 20 minutes of effective time, was credited with four shots and largely held in check by the Capitals defense. Brad Richards, New York’s high-priced center, was able to get only two shots through on Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby (26 saves).
And on the other side, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin only had two shots on Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist (28 saves), while having another five attempts blocked by the Rangers defense headlined by Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, and the returning Marc Staal, who played just over 17 minutes in his first game since suffering that scary eye injury on March 5.
Ovechkin has only one goal in the series.
Derick Brassard scored just 83 seconds into the second period – his first career postseason goal, and part of a three-point night (1-2-3).
“It was a little different,” said Brassard of his first career postseason series. “I didn’t know what to expect. For me personally, I’m good when I make plays [and] I skate well. My puck decisions need to be good. I felt in the second game I was all over the place. Tonight I tried to have more fun, and take it like it was a regular season game. I think we made some really good plays tonight.”
“We got some good minutes. Boyle, Brass, a number of people that helped out here tonight. We’re going to need that if we want to stay alive,” Tortorella said. “[Brassard] played a complete game. He made some really good offensive plays, but I thought he battled defensively. Hasn’t played much in this type of situation, he played a really good game for us tonight.”
After Mike Green tied the game late in the second, Arron Asham, who scored only two goals in 27 regular season games, finished a strong cycling play to put the Rangers in front at 2:53 of the final period. The goal was Asham’s 10th in 65 career playoff games.
After Jay Beagle tied the game on a deflection with 12:41 left, the Rangers top line of Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, and Derek Stepan went to work. After McDonagh kept the puck alive at the point, Zuccarello fed Rick Nash in the corner. As Stepan cut towards the net, Nash fed a perfect pass to the 22-year-old pivot with 6:25 left.
It was Stepan’s second career postseason goal in 28 games.
“Even though he hasn’t put numbers up, you look at how much I rely on him,” Tortorella said of Stepan. “He played [23:57] tonight. He is growing. Like I told you guys this morning, it’s not always about the stats or the result, it’s the process and how you go about it. He’s a 22-year-old guy that’s being relied upon in all situations. I thought he handled himself really well tonight, and then – while I didn’t think that line was great – they score a big goal to propel us there. That’s what it’s all about.”
A frantic penalty kill with six Washington attackers on the ice in the final 1:54 sealed the win for New York.
“All we were focused on was doing whatever we could to try to win a game,” Tortorella said. “We did that, now we need to try to win one more game. We’ll see what happens from there.”
Brassard’s three points were the most by a Ranger in their home playoff debut since Sergei Zubov in the 1994 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Islanders.
With the win, Tortorella moved into a tie with Fred Shero for fifth on the Rangers’ all-time playoff wins list with 15 postseason victories. Emile Francis, who coached the team for ten seasons, is first with 34 career postseason wins.
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