Chris Kreider said it was "tough to stomach," a queasiness familiar to 16 seasons’ worth of Alex Ovechkin’s NHL opponents.
But this one hurt a little extra for the Rangers, who played a brilliant defensive game for 53 minutes Friday night against the Russian superstar and his powerful Capitals teammates at Capital One Arena in Washington.
As is often the case against Ovechkin, it was not enough.
He scored two goals on rebounds from close range, the first to tie it with 6:42 remaining in the third period and the second to put the Capitals ahead with 3:33 left. The 2-1 victory gave the Capitals a seven-game winning streak.
Ovechkin extended his goal-scoring streak to five games and has 720 regular-season goals.
"He’s a Hall of Famer," Rangers interim coach Kris Knoblauch said after suffering his first loss in place of David Quinn, who along with the rest of his staff has missed the past two games because of COVID-19 protocols.
In Knoblauch’s first game, the Rangers beat the Flyers, 9-0, on Wednesday, and it
appeared they would make him 2-0. They smothered the Capitals for most of the game — Washington finished with only 18 shots on goal — and seemed poised for a 1-0 victory.
Artemi Panarin gave the Rangers the lead with a power-play goal at 16:42 of the first period off a nifty feed from Ryan Strome, who had gathered a rebound of Adam Fox’s shot that banged off the post.
The goal gave Panarin seven points — three goals and four assists — in the four games since he returned from a personal leave.
The biggest drama between then and Ovechkin’s grand finale came in the second period when Ryan Lindgren took a puck to the face while sitting on the bench, briefly went to the dressing room for repairs, then returned.
Shortly thereafter, he leveled Ovechkin with a crushing body check that seemed to rattle Ovechkin, whose stick broke.
For the rest of the period, Capitals players jawed at Lindgren, although it was not clear why, because the hit seemed legal.
"That’s NHL hockey," Kreider said. "It’s a physical game. It’s a man’s game whenever you play against them."
Said Knoblauch, "I thought Lindy made a tremendous play. It was clean."
Ovechkin did not retaliate and said he had no problem with Lindgren, calling it a "great hit." But he got his revenge nonetheless.
He tied it when he put home a puck that had bounced off teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov and trickled in front of goalie Alexandar Georgiev.
Then Ovechkin did it again, putting in another loose puck, this time off a rebound he controlled with his skate. "Sometimes you have to get those really gritty ones," he said.
The Rangers had been 10-1-2 when leading entering the third period. Now they are 10-2-2.
"It was close throughout," Kreider said. "We were able to limit chances from a very good offensive team, so definitely a lot of good takeaways."
The Rangers (12-13-4) will get another crack at Ovie and the Capitals (20-6-4) on Saturday night, with Knoblauch again behind the bench.
Kreider, who has been with the Rangers since 2012, said the coaching situation is just the latest plot twist in a strange season.
"I think that is the overarching theme of the season: Chaos," he said. "Every day it seems like something else. The schedule’s obviously been wacky, and with everything going on in the world, it’s a true test of character, because it’s something new every day.
"So I’m really proud of how our group’s handled it and how our group’s competed over the last two games. At this point, we’re almost not surprised. It’s something new every day. I think it’s brought us closer together as a group, and it’s given us plenty of opportunities to face adversity and try to overcome it."