Brandon Prust does some heavy lifting for the Rangers: He forechecks, kills penalties, blocks shots and takes on the enforcers in the league, most of whom tower over him. Last season, the 5-11 winger scored 13 goals, including five shorthanded, but he had only two entering Sunday's game.
Prust snapped a 48-game goalless streak Sunday when he converted Brandon Dubinsky's pass on a shorthanded two-on-one break early in the third period to extend a one-goal lead, and the Rangers held on to beat the Washington Capitals, 3-2, at Madison Square Garden.
"It's been a long time coming," said Prust, who last scored Oct. 20. "About 50 games . . . felt like a hundred."
Prust's goal helped the Rangers (36-13-5, 77 points) win their third in a row and extend their Eastern Conference lead to seven points over the Bruins, whom they visit Tuesday. The Rangers are 7-1-1 in the second game of back-to-backs this season.
"We talked about not having any excuses going into this game even though it was less than 20 hours from the last game [a 5-2 win over the Flyers in Philadelphia]," said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 24 saves and earned his 26th victory. "So to get the first goal was big for us."
That came from Ryan Callahan, his 22nd overall and fifth in three games, at 11:01 of the first period. With his back to the net and falling, Callahan managed to lift a backhander past Michal Neuvirth. Brad Richards also set up Callahan on a two-on-one with 1:09 left, but the winger's shot hit the post.
"I guess people sometimes think he's just a shot-blocker, a guy who can bang along the boards and finish checks," coach John Tortorella said. "This is what, his third season with 20-plus goals?"
The Rangers were credited with 17 hits in the period, but a sleepier start to the second was costly. Alexander Semin's one-timer from the right circle, set up by a drop pass from Jason Chimera, tied the score at 1 at 6:31.
The scariest moment of the game involved defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who was injured while scoring a goal at 13:21 of the second period. After faking and going around Troy Brouwer's slide near the left point, McDonagh's leg buckled after he released a shot that beat Neuvirth for a 2-1 Rangers lead.
Lying on his back and grimacing, he grabbed his left knee and had to be helped off the ice to the trainer's room. But McDonagh, who is second in the NHL in blocked shots, returned a short time later to help kill a penalty. "It's just a little tweak," said McDonagh, who played a team-high 25:23. "I kind of had this injury in the past. It's really OK."
In his second season, McDonagh has been instrumental in the team's defensive success. And Sunday, the line of Prust, Dubinsky (two assists) and Brian Boyle was outstanding while matched against Alex Ovechkin, who had five shots and one assist, on John Carlson's goal that cut the lead to 3-2 with 2:28 left in regulation.
"They had Ovechkin all day," Tortorella said. "A big part was having the puck; they did some really good things under the hashmarks, forcing [Ovechkin's line] to play defense. Dubi makes a big play on Prust's goal and Boyle's been doing some really good things faceoff-wise and forechecking.
"We had our top guys do some really good things Saturday and we get some other guys to step up today."