New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) – Chris Kreider and Dan Boyle each produced first-period goals, and the resilient New York Rangers held off the Washington Capitals down the stretch for a critical 3-2 win in Game 2 of this Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Derick Brassard added a pivotal goal in the third period to help New York even this best-of-seven set and bounce back from a tough 2-1 loss on home ice in Thursday’s opener, during which a costly turnover from Boyle from a somewhat controversial hit from Nicklas Backstrom set up Joel Ward’s winner with 1.3 seconds remaining.
“It really bothered me,” Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said of Thursday’s outcome. “So we tried to use that energy in a good way going into this game and be really determined that we need this one. I think the first period we played one of our better periods.”
Lundqvist recorded 30 saves, marking the 10th straight time he has let up two goals or fewer in a playoff victory at Madison Square Garden.
Braden Holtby stopped 32 shots for Washington, which drew within 3-2 with 9:31 remaining on Alex Ovechkin’s second goal of the series but couldn’t come up with the equalizer.
Evgeny Kuznetsov also scored for the Capitals, who will host Game 3 when the series resumes on Monday.
The Rangers had mustered just one goal in regulation in each of their three previous playoff games, though two of those ended in overtime wins over Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals. They had two alone during a dominant first period in which the team outshot Washington by a 15-4 margin on Saturday.
New York jumped ahead in a blink, as Kreider pounced on a long rebound Holtby left on an early stop on Jesper Fast and fired it home a mere 38 seconds in.
“Well, we had moved on past Thursday night and we were focused on the process of playing a good hockey game and obviously we came out with a good start,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault remarked. “(Fast) had a real good look prior to that and he (Kreider) was able to put in the rebound by going to the net.”
The Rangers converted their first power play chance of the day later in the frame to go up 2-0. Boyle was able to keep the puck in the Capitals’ zone before launching a perfectly placed shot into the top left corner with Holtby effectively screened by Rick Nash.
Ironically, the man advantage was a result of Ward being sent off for a hooking call against Carl Hagelin.
“We knew the Rangers were going to come out with a very high degree of desperation,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said. “We just didn’t handle it the way we needed to. We needed to get out of that period maybe 1-0, not 2-0. We dug ourselves in a hole, I thought.”
Washington did put far more pressure on Lundqvist during a strong second period to pull within one entering the third.
Just minutes after being stoned by a sprawling kick save from Lundqvist, Kuznetsov dumped the puck into the Rangers’ end and rushed in to knock in the carom of Jason Chimera’s initial attempt with 6:01 remaining in the middle stanza.
Lundqvist finished with 15 saves during a busy second period, including a denial of Troy Brouwer on a good chance in close late in the frame that kept it a 2-1 game.
Brassard gave Washington an opportunity to pull even by being whistled for interference with 3:57 elapsed in the third. The Rangers were able to withstand the Caps’ dangerous power play, though, and Martin St. Louis threaded two defenders with a no-look pass that Brassard retrieved and put through Holtby’s pads moments after skating out of the box.
That goal proved to be critical, as a tremendous individual effort from Ovechkin midway through the third cut New York’s lead to 3-2.
The reigning Rocket Richard Trophy recipient picked up a head of steam while carrying the puck into the Rangers’ zone, powered through defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi and successfully flung a shot over Lundqvist’s shoulder while falling to the ice with 9:31 left to play.
After a high-sticking penalty to Brouwer briefly stalled their momentum, the Capitals applied heavy pressure with Holtby pulled with time winding down.
Lundqvist came up with a pair of big saves in the final two minutes, however, stopping Brouwer from the slot and later getting a piece of Mike Green’s blast that came with just 14 seconds to go.
The Rangers have gone on to win their last three postseason series in which they dropped Game 1 at home, including twice during their last Stanley Cup run in 1994 … Each of New York’s last nine playoff contests have been decided by one goal, the longest active streak in the NHL … The Capitals had killed off all 16 short-handed chances this postseason prior to Boyle’s goal … Ovechkin now has 12 goals in 27 career playoff meetings with New York … Four of the eight previous playoff series involving the teams have been knotted at 1-1 after eight games. The lower seed has prevailed in three of those situations, though the Rangers downed Washington in seven games as the favorite in the 2012 East semis.