WASHINGTON -- With 5:36 left in a tie game at Verizon Center Friday night, Dan Girardi's shot beat Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer.
And clanged off the post.
That's the closest the Rangers came to a third straight victory. Twenty-seven seconds later, Eric Fehr's wrister from the right circle beat Cam Talbot to the blocker side in Washington's 3-2 win.
"I hit the post and they come right back down and score," Girardi said. "It's kind of tough to swallow, but that's the way things go."
The Rangers (18-19-2) outshot the Caps 40-34 and outplayed them five-on-five, but a power-play goal by Mike Green in the first and Fehr's four-on-four goal made the difference.
"It's a save I've got to make," said Talbot, whose record dropped to 8-3. "Tie game, five minutes to go, it kind of took the wind out of our sails. It's one I'd like to have back."
The Rangers had won two in a row behind first-year goaltender Talbot, and Alain Vigneault gave him his third consecutive start. It was the first time Henrik Lundqvist sat out three straight since November 2006.
"I just thought it made sense to come back with him," Vigneault said before the game. "I'm looking at this like I am trying to win some hockey games. Hank has had no practice time the last three days."
Lundqvist likely will play Sunday, though.
"I really like the way we competed five-on-five, but it's a game of inches," Vigneault said. "Late in the third, there's a turnover in the offensive zone, the gap is a little loose and the goalie is a little bit off."
The Rangers came back twice. With Rick Nash off for tripping, Green's one-timer ticked the shaft of Derek Stepan's stick and went under Talbot's glove to give the Caps a 1-0 lead at 6:55 of the first period. Benoit Pouliot tied it at 1:37 of the second on a power play, tipping Brad Richards' shot for his third goal in four games.
The Caps thought they scored a second-period goal when Talbot deflected Fehr's shot off the left post. But replays showed the puck never crossed the goal line.
After two determined shifts near the end of the period, the puck bounced past Ryan McDonagh near the Rangers' blue line, and Nicklas Backstrom's wrister went off Talbot's blocker with 1:05 left for a 2-1 Caps lead.
On a penalty kill in the third, McDonagh's long pass sprung Carl Hagelin, who beat Grubauer through the pads just 17 seconds in to tie it at 2.
In the first game of a five-game road trip, the Rangers played with five defensemen after Anton Stralman left with an undisclosed injury after the first period. He played only 3:17. After the game, Conor Allen was recalled from Hartford. Stralman said he "felt OK" but was uncertain if he'll be able to play Sunday night in Tampa.
Notes & quotes: Marc Staal, who skated with the team for the first time since his Dec. 7 concussion, could play before the Rangers return to the Garden on Jan. 6 . . . Captain Ryan Callahan skated in sweatpants with a brace on his left knee just 17 days after spraining his MCL.