WASHINGTON - For the first time all season, the Rangers are leading the entire National Hockey League.
A 3-1 win over the Capitals last night, sealed by Martin St. Louis' insurance goal at 17:33 of the third period, gave the Rangers their fourth straight road win. They have 91 points, one ahead of the Islanders, after prevailing in a physical game.
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The Anaheim Ducks lost to Calgary last night so the Rangers now lead not just the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference, but the entire NHL.
The Rangers, with a month left in the regular season, win all tiebreakers with the Ducks. The Blueshirts are on an amazing run: they are now 31-7-3. And their roll through the league continued last night.
Chris Kreider intercepted a pass in mid-ice and sped toward goalie Braden Holtby, with St. Louis on his left. Kreider's pass was slammed in by St. Louis.
"As soon as Kreids got it, I felt like we could turn it into a two-on-none,'' St. Louis said. "He made a great unselfish play.''
With about nine minutes left, after a horrendous turnover by Mats Zuccarello, Cam Talbot stopped Alex Ovechkin point blank with his left pad. Talbot slid to his left to stop another shot, and Dan Boyle blocked another try.
Talbot made 28 saves, 15 in the third period, and has allowed only five goals in five games.
With the Capitals setting up during a five-on-three for 1:18 at the start of the second, several shots went wide or were blocked. Talbot then robbed Niklas Backstrom with a spectacular glove save at the left post.
"To take away their momentum on the power play, which they feed off so much, was a big momentum boost for us,'' Talbot said. "I just kind of instinctively reached back. I didn't think that it crossed the line.''
Dominic Moore came out of the box for a breakaway, but his backhand try was denied, as well as a follow from a sharp angle.
At 7:27, Girardi leveled Jay Beagle coming up the boards with a thunderous shoulder check. Curtis Glencross retaliated, Tanner Glass responded, and it ended with a second man-advantage for the Blueshirts. After Ovechkin elbowed J.T. Miller, standing still, in the face at 9:44. the Rangers couldn't score.
The Capitals, on average the heaviest team in the league, came out like wrecking balls, and fierce forechecking kept play in the Rangers' zone for much of the first five minutes.
"We knew they were going to try to hit us,'' Miller said. "Even Ovechkin is running around, and we knew we had to match that physicality.''
The Rangers regrouped, and Carl Hagelin scored his first goal in nine games at 8:20. He started the rush down the right side and went to the net to shovel a rebound of Hayes' shot past Holtby for a 1-0 lead.
After an interference penalty on Boyle in front, Marc Staal blocked Ovechkin's shot, but the Russian star answered with his league-leading 45th goal. A wide-open blast from near the top of the left circle struck the stick of a diving Jesper Fast and eluded Talbot at 11:43.
The chippiness intensified. Troy Brouwer was sent off for a slash, but the Rangers couldn't deliver. Miller did, however, when Kevin Hayes found him cutting through the circle, and his shot bounced off Holtby and in at 16:34 of the first.