If the game was an early-season litmus test, an indicator of where the Capitals and Rangers stood, the Blueshirts came up red -- as in the goal light.
Although the Caps dominated puck possession, the Rangers scored four goals on their 11 shots in the first 40 minutes. They left Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night with an unusual 5-2 win that lifted the Blueshirts (8-2-2) into first place in the Metropolitan Division.
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"They had the puck the whole time and we were chasing it,'' said Derick Brassard, whose attempted pass to Rick Nash at the post at 6:59 of the second period was knocked in by a sliding Marcus Johansson to give the Rangers their fourth goal.
"You take the points, but we have to come out with better execution. Their D were finding forwards in the neutral zone and it was pretty hard to defend,'' said Brassard, one of four Rangers with a goal and an assist each. "In the second period, when we got stuck in our own end for four minutes, we lost our legs and lost our energy . . . I think [Jarret] Stoll's goal was kind of a relief for our team.''
With a 4-2 lead midway through the third, Stoll's goal, a 45-foot slapper and his first as a Ranger, effectively ended it. It was the first matchup between these clubs since Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs. The five goals tied a Rangers season high and ended a 6-1-1 stretch at home.
However, the win, thanks in large part to opportunism and Henrik Lundqvist's 32 saves, also left the Rangers a bit red-faced.
"We didn't get much. We made them pay when they made a mistake,'' Marc Staal said. "They gave us a lot of trouble in our own end and on the forecheck. It's not the way we'd like to play.''
Brooks Orpik's errant pass led to a 1-0 lead for the Rangers at 7:59 of the first. Dan Girardi spun for a shot that hit Viktor Stalberg's skate and the puck came to Hayes, who was stopped in front. But the puck trickled toward the right post, where Oscar Lindberg, who leads all NHL rookies in goals, pounced for his sixth. It was the eighth time in 12 games that the Rangers scored first. Lindberg, Hayes and Kevin Klein were the other three players with a multipoint game.
After Girardi's low shot from between the circles hit the post, the Capitals raced down on an odd-man rush, with Alex Ovechkin on the left, and he buried Nate Schmidt's pretty pass for his sixth goal at 15:45. That was it on the scoresheet for Ovechkin, despite 14 shot attempts, eight on goal. He also delivered a game-high eight hits.
The Rangers responded 2:01 later, with Hayes, Lindberg and Stalberg involved again. Driving toward the net, Hayes looked to the right at Stalberg before shooting. He ripped the puck through Holtby, and the Blueshirts led 2-1.
"I thought that line was our best at both ends of the rink,'' coach Alain Vigneault said.
At 1:53 of the second, Brassard found a trailing Klein, whose stickside wrister eluded Braden Holtby for a 3-1 edge. "They're a team that thrives on the odd-man stuff, and they wait for it,'' Holtby said.
But the rest of the period was all Caps, who outshot the Rangers 14-2 before they steadied in the third. "We just lost total momentum,'' Vigneault said. "That's when you need your great goaltending.''