Derek Stepan scores winner as Rangers cut Capitals' advantage to 2-1

Rangers left wing Rick Nash, left, Mats Zuccarello, center, and Washington Capitals center Matt Hendricks battle along the boards for control of the puck during the first period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at Verizon Center. (May 4, 2013)

The Rangers clawed their way back into their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series Monday night when Derek Stepan scored by deflecting Rick Nash's pass at 13:35 of the third period for a 4-3 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 3 at Madison Square Garden.

The Capitals lead the series two games to one, with Game 4 at the Garden Wednesday night.

Stepan's goal, his first of the playoffs, marked the first time in the last two series between these teams that a team had scored a fourth goal, and it was enough to force a Game 5 in Washington on Friday night.

"Tonight it was pretty much do-or-die for us," said Derick Brassard, who had a goal and two assists after struggling in his first two playoff games.

"Honestly, I didn't know what to expect," said Brassard, who never played in the postseason with Columbus. "In the second game, I was all over the place; tonight I tried to have more fun and take it as a regular-season game. That's what we need to do, feel loose on the ice, and we'll find a way to score because we have so much talent on this team."

After the Capitals battled back from 2-1 and 3-2 deficits, the winner came from Stepan, who got off to a slow start.

"The first two periods I just seemed to be a step behind," said Stepan, who had one goal in 27 previous postseason games. "It was a good goal for me. But it doesn't go into the net without a play like that from Rick and Mac [Ryan McDonagh] at the blue line.''

The Capitals had a final chance to tie in a wild, back-and-forth third period. When Brad Richards took a penalty by clipping Alex Ovechkin on the chin with 1:54 left, Braden Holtby was pulled for a sixth attacker. But McDonagh and Dan Girardi came up with big blocks and Henrik Lundqvist made the last of his 28 saves.

To be sure, the Rangers were buoyed by the return of alternate captain Marc Staal, who missed 29 games while recovering from a March 5 eye injury. "I think the confidence is going to grow the more I'm out there and in game situations," said Staal, who played 17:17 and was greeted with a thunderous ovation when he was announced as part of the starting lineup.

Arron Asham's third-period goal snapped a 2-2 tie. Brassard set up Asham in front with a beautiful pass from behind the net at 2:53 and he beat Holtby, who had allowed one goal in the first two games.

But after the Rangers lost a faceoff, Jack Hillen's shot from just above the left circle hit Anton Stralman, changed direction, hit the Caps' Jay Beagle and tied the score at 3 at 7:19.

Late in the second, the Caps' Mike Green tied the score at 2-2 with a high glove- side shot at 17:19. Lundqvist had made several game-changing saves in the minutes before that on Troy Brouwer, Nicklas Backstrom and Green.

Brassard, with his first playoff goal, made it 2-1 at 1:23 of the period on the power play. "He played a complete game," coach John Tortorella said. "Right from the get-go, he was involved."

So was Brian Boyle. In the first, he tied the score at 1 when he went high short side from the right as a power play expired. It was the Rangers' first goal in a span of 124:06 dating to Game 1. "We accomplished what we set out to do," Boyle said. "But we have to make it stand up."

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