With two quick-strike goals early in the third period last night, the Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals, 4-3, to tie the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals at two games apiece. Game 5 is at Verizon Center tomorrow night.
Each side has held serve at home, but the Rangers had to hold on for dear life for the rest of the final period, with the Madison Square Garden crowd roaring in unison. Joel Ward just missed tying it as his last-second attempt slid under Henrik Lundqvist along the goal line and past the far post. Lundqvist finished with 27 saves.
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"We gutted it out and Hank made some big saves," Ryan Callahan said.
With the score tied at 2, Dan Girardi's power-play slap shot from the left point 59 seconds into the third restored the Rangers' lead to 3-2 (they had led 2-0 midway through the second period). Derick Brassard, who has five points in the last two games, fed Girardi for his second assist of the game, while Jason Chimera was in the penalty box. As time expired in the second period, Chimera had shoved Anton Stralman into the net.
"Brass made a heck of a play to get it to the middle," Girardi said. "I knew I was going to shoot far side. It just happened to go in."
Derek Stepan cashed in on a pretty passing play at 6:02 after Hagelin's touch pass, with Braden Holtby (30 saves) and defenseman Jack Hillen down in the crease, for a 4-2 lead. But Mathieu Perreault, with his second of the game, trimmed the lead to 4-3 with 12:29 left.
The Rangers dominated territorial play for the first half of the game and not only led in shots 22-9 but 2-0 on the scoreboard on goals by Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin, who had three points. But the Capitals rallied in the second period.
Troy Brouwer tied the score at 2 with just 17.1 seconds left in the second, after Mike Green kept a clearing try in at the blue line -- a call that Brian Boyle disputed. Brouwer cut across the slot and his backhander found the net past Lundqvist's glove.
The Capitals mounted sustained pressure in the Rangers' zone after Ward set up a goal to cut the Rangers' lead in half when he stormed down the left side, faked a shot and went around a sliding Michael Del Zotto at the doorstep. Lundqvist made the save, but Perreault was alone at the right post for the tap-in at 13:08
It turned into a close game, in part because the Rangers did not capitalize on a five-on-three at the end of the first period that carried into the second.
Leading 1-0, Del Zotto was sent off for tripping with 3:11 left, but Callahan, on the third shorthanded rush off the penalty kill, was pulled down by Martin Erat. Alex Ovechkin crashed into both of them from behind and was whistled for charging (Erat was injured on the play and did not return).
When Del Zotto came out of the box, the Rangers had a five-on-three and Holtby made two big saves near the end of the two-man advantage. There was 26 seconds left, which carried over to the second period, but the Blueshirts could not add to their lead.
Hagelin, with his second of the series, gave the Rangers the 2-0 lead at 10:13 of the second period from the left side, hammering a cross-ice feed from Brassard high glove side past Holtby. Ryane Clowe, playing his first game since being injured on April 25, set up the play with a pass to Brassard.
Holtby's gaffe late in the first period led to a goal by Brad Richards, his first of the playoffs.
"I think our resiliency really has shown in these past two games," John Tortorella said.