WASHINGTON----Whoda thunk it?

                    The Rangers held big guns Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green off the scoreboard and still lost.

                    It was as if the videotape had been rewound to the weeks where the Rangers suffered through a deep scoring drought. WIth 17 games remaining in the season, this is a bad time for a rerun.

                    Some costly penalties, few deadly or accurate shots, and Jose Theodore stopped them all. "Right now, the last month and a half, I feel good," said Theodore. He is 12-0-2 in his last 14 and the Caps have won 13 straight in Verizon Center, where they have just three regulation losses all season. The Caps have an East-high 96 points. The Rangers, with 66, are still on the post-season outskirts.

 

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                      In the end, The Machine prevailed. The Rangers threw a wrench into the Caps offense, which leads the NHL with 252 goals, a pace that would make them the highest scoring team in the NHL since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins.

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                    But the Blueshirts aren’t anything similar to a well-oiled engine. Even with the return of leading scorer Marian Gaborik, the Blueshirts were shut out 2-0 by Theodore, who played well enough to deny goaltender Alex Auld a win in his Rangers debut.

                    Theodore finished with 30 saves, and Auld 26, but the Rangers, including Gaborik, couldn’t seem to hit the net enough, and when they did, there were few rebounds.

                    “It’s not 100 percent,” said the ailing Gaborik, who had missed three straight games and four of the last five with first a sliced thigh, and then a groin pull sustained during the Olympics.

                   Having not played for a week, he conceded that he felt rusty in his 20:08 on ice, during which he had three shots. “When I get my legs back, it’s going to be a little better each game,” he said. “I had some chances tonight, but we have to work together to get a win. It felt okay today, it’s going to get better tomorrow.”

                     Asked if Gaborik, who leads the Rangers with four goals and six points in three games against Washington this season, didn’t seem to be 100 percent, coach John Tortorella snapped: “I don’t know what I think. Obviously, he has to play better.”

                    The Rangers had 26 missed or blocked shots, were 0 for 2 on the power play, and committed three penalties in the offensive zone. Two came within 15 seconds in the first period, a hook by Sean Avery and a holding the stick by Mark Staal. Eric Fehr scored at the tail-end of the 5-on-3, lifting a shot from the doorstep into the cage past a helpless Auld at 10:56.

                     A terrible pass from the boards by defenseman Shaone Morrison to Dubinsky alone in front provided a golden opportunity for the tie. But Theodore, 11-0-2 in his last 13 games, stopped Dubinsky’s backhander with his stick.

                  "I kind of froze a little bit when he faked the shot," he said, "but I didn;t go down. That was obviously a key save. As a goalie, there's not a better feeling when you baial one of your friends out of trouble like that."

 

                    With the Rangers trailing in the second, Dubinsky failed to lift Eric Belanger’s stick or put his body on him in front, and he swept the puck under Auld at 13:38. It was the first goal as a Cap for Belanger, acquired at the March 3 trade deadline.

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                    “I thought we fell asleep on the second goal,” said Tortorella. “We had two or three guys who aren’t ready. That’s the story of the game.”

                    You couldn’t blame Auld, 29, who had played 204 NHL games with a record of 83-81-28 and a 2.78 GAA, and was claimed off re-entry waivers from Dallas on Feb. 27. He had played 9 games against the Capitals and was 3-4-1, with one shutout. Auld’s last win was Jan. 29 against the Avalanche and was 9-6-3 with the Stars.

                         “He played very well, that’s good news,” said Tortorella. “We have a 2 on 0, we had a couple opportunities, 3 on 2. They didn’t kill us with scoring chances. But we have to find a way when we get opportunities to at least get a shot on the net.”

                         Vinny Prospal agreed. "We have to hit the net on shots. That's where the problem starts."     

 

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                     At least, the Rangers have found a backup goaltender.

                     Coach John Tortorella said Alex Auld’s experience made him a better option for the Rangers than “trying to force-feed that position” with youngsters Chad Johnson, who appeared in five games and won his last start in Colorado on Jan. 31, and Matt Zaba, who mopped up in a Jan. 23 loss to Montreal, allowing two goals on 16 shots in 34 minutes.

                     “The situation that we had with our backups,” he said, “it’s best we could get them down there (Hartford) to develop. In the stretch run here, it’s a good thing for to have a veteran guy we can use. We’re not using a rookie, so it’s definitely not the same spot. This is a veteran guy who has played in the league for quite a while.”

                      Auld said after the 2-0 loss that it was the only time in seven or eight “first” games with a new team that he hadn’t won. “I don’t know, maybe that bodes well for the future,” he said.

 

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                   The Rangers had scored 16 goals in the last three games but couldn’t ring up anything at Verizon Center.

                    Sean Avery’s four-point streak in three games? Gone. Brandon Dubinsky’s two-game goal streak? Done. Even Wade Redden’s modest two-game assist streak vanished. Olli Jokinen, who had 15 goals in 51 career games against the Capitals? Nada.

                     The Rangers hadn’t been shut out since being blitzed 6-0 by the Canadiens on Jan. 2.

 

 

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              Henrik Lundqvist, who was 1-2-0 with a 4.04 goals against average against the Capitals this season, will play tonight against the Sabres. He is 1-1 against the Sabres this season, a 2-1 win in Buffalo on Dec. 5 and a 3-2 loss at home on Dec. 12)…Enver Lisin and Aaron Voros, who were waived on March 2, but went unclaimed, were healthy scratches. Voros hasn’t played in six of the last eight games. Tortorella said Lisin, who dressed in five of the last seven and had one assist, had “given us some good minutes” in Gaborik’s absence… Joe Corvo’s assist on Eric Fehr’s first period goal was his first point as a Capital. He was acquired on March 3 from the Hurricanes…Brian Boyle is expected to play his 100th NHL game tonight.