Derek Stepan's power-play goal lifts Rangers over Capitals
In their previous two games, the Rangers blew leads and went to shootouts. Sunday night, they simply kept shooting, and shooting, and never got to overtime.
Instead, they beat the Capitals, 2-1, despite an outstanding effort by Washington goaltender Braden Holtby, who stopped the first 29 shots he faced. He made John Carlson's goal at 1:19 of the first period stand up until Carl Hagelin tied the score at 7:39 of the second. It was Hagelin's fifth goal in four games.
"I thought we were a lot better than them in the first," said Henrik Lundqvist, who dueled with Holtby in a flashback to their seven-game series in the second round of the playoffs last spring and finished with 27 saves to Holtby's 38.
"The key for us was to stay patient . . . and we did,'' Lundqvist added. "It's not easy to be down 1-0 when you have 29 shots, but you just have to stick with it. I think we all felt like sooner or later, it was going to break and we're going to score here. We just had that many chances."
It took a while, and a tic-tac-toe passing gem on the power play. With Karl Alzner off for tripping, a beautiful setup gave the Rangers the lead. A faceoff win led to a diagonal pass from Brad Richards to Michael Del Zotto, who quickly found Derek Stepan at the far side of the crease. Stepan, down on one knee, easily beat Holtby to make it 2-1 at 4:25 of the third.
It was the Rangers' only goal in five power-play opportunities, but they had some very good chances. It was a major improvement from the inconsistent units that were 5-for-48 coming in, ranked 29th in the league.
"Richie has good vision through the seam, and it kind of opens up for me to get to Step," Del Zotto said. "It's huge for us."
The difference in the man-advantage, Marc Staal said, was that "we were able to control [the puck] in the offensive zone quicker, we were moving the puck around quicker. The looks we did get in games past, I thought we had more of them."
Meanwhile, the 10th-ranked penalty kill, led by Ryan Callahan, was 4-for-4 against the Capitals, who were ranked No. 5 on the power play.
"We put up a doughnut, we get one, and we win the game by one," said Callahan, who blocked six shots. "A lot of times, that's what it comes down to."
Hagelin remains on fire, using his speed to create havoc and be in the right spot game after game. He was aptly described by coach John Tortorella as "our best player recently."
"All I had to do was keep my stick on the ice," said Hagelin, who credited Rick Nash with drawing opponents to him and leaving holes for him to fill. "We knew all we needed was one goal because Hank was playing great."
The 23-year-old Holtby had not been playing well this season at 4-4 with a 3.90 GAA and .877 save percentage. But he bedeviled the Rangers.
After two periods, the Rangers (8-5-1) had 34 shots on goal, nine missed shots and 15 attempts blocked. They had been held to fewer than 32 shots in eight of the 13 games and surpassed that halfway through the second period. The Rangers are 5-1-1 when outshooting their opponents, which is tied for eighth in the NHL.
"We're starting to roll a little bit," Callahan said. "We are getting confidence. We just have to keep this thing going. We knew as a group we could turn it around."