Rick Nash scores twice as red-hot Rangers beat Capitals, 4-1
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The Rangers are motoring through the Eastern Conference. Sunday night's 4-1 win over the Capitals moved them into fifth place in the conference, their highest point this season.
Rick Nash was the triggerman, scoring a beauty on an intercepted pass and backhander 1:10 into the game and again on a low, hard wrister through goalie Philipp Grubauer on a five-on-three power play in the first period. That set up the Rangers' sixth win in seven games.
"He's got confidence," said Ryan Callahan, whose shorthanded goal in the second restored the Rangers' three-goal lead and deflated the mistake-prone Capitals. "You can tell by the way he's holding on to pucks in the offensive zone. When he grabs it, he controls the game."
Despite missing 17 games after a concussion, Nash leads the team in goals with 14 and has seven in the last eight games.
"I think there's an expectation from Rick himself and the group that he has got to find a way to get on the scoresheet," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Just like there's an expectation from our group that Hank's going to stop the puck and give us a chance to win. Those players are elite players. They're difference-makers."
The Rangers (27-21-3) moved into second place in the Metropolitan Division, two points ahead of the Flyers. The Penguins are in first with 70 points.
"It was a tough back-to-back for us," said Nash, who also scored in Saturday's win over Ottawa. "Traveling and coming home to a team [the Capitals] that is right on our heels. It's a huge four points."
Besides a resurgent power play, ranked seventh in the NHL, and a revival from Henrik Lundqvist (24 saves), who earned his 17th victory and has allowed only eight goals in his last six starts, the Rangers have oozed confidence and have managed the puck extremely well. That is exactly the way Vigneault envisioned it when he assumed control after John Tortorella was fired last summer.
And the road ahead is promising. The next seven games are either at home or at Yankee Stadium, beginning Tuesday at the Garden against the Islanders.
After Nash scored his second goal two seconds after a five-on-four ended, Derek Stepan took Michael Del Zotto's pass and found an opening past Chris Kreider's screen at 17:49 for his second goal in two games after a 13-game drought. Braden Holtby then relieved Grubauer.
Said Lundqvist, "The way the power play is playing right now is just lifting the whole team, with the energy and confidence, and the PK has been really good. If you can win the special teams, you have a good chance of winning every game."
Alex Ovechkin scored a power-play goal on a wicked one-timer from the lower left circle -- his league-leading 35th -- to make it 3-1 at 59 seconds of the second. It was his first goal against the Rangers dating to Game 1 of the playoffs last season, a 10-game span.
With the Rangers still short-handed, Dominic Moore and Ryan Callahan broke across the Caps' blue line and Holtby couldn't secure Moore's slapper. Callahan sped straight for the net and knocked in the rebound for a 4-1 lead at 2:25. "It really takes away any life that a team could have," Vigneault said.
And provided even more energy for a Rangers team that has been firing on all cylinders.
It was the third straight unassisted goal for the Rangers, who then tried to fend off the Caps for the next few minutes.
Derick Brassard went off for hooking at 10:26, and the Rangers killed the penalty, but when Martin Erat was whistled for hooking at 15:24 and Karl Alzner for hooking 23 seconds later, the roof fell in for the Caps, on those tallies by Nash and Stepan.