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Rangers beat Capitals for seventh win in a row

New York Rangers left wing Rick Nash (61)

New York Rangers left wing Rick Nash (61) is congratulated by New York Rangers right wing Mats Zuccarello (36) on his second score of the evening occurring in the third period on Wednesday, December 23, 2014 at Madison Square Garden. Washington Capitals at the New York Rangers. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Make that seven in a row.

Barely.

After controlling the first two periods of their first matchup of the season against the Washington Capitals, Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers withstood a 21-shot third-period barrage to extend their winning streak to a season-high seven games with a 4-2 victory Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

On the eve of a leaguewide three-day holiday break, Rick Nash scored his 21st and 22nd goals and Martin St. Louis scored twice on the power play. But the Caps nearly rallied.

"They were coming," St. Louis said, referring to a frenetic effort by the Capitals after Nash's second goal at 5:12 of the third provided a 3-0 lead. Earlier, Mats Zuccarello's shot had deflected off Nash ("That was a lucky one," Nash said) to make it 1-0 just 3:32 into the game.

"You know they are going to throw everything at you," St. Louis said. "They get you running a little bit and you get tired. You have to bend, not break."

Lundqvist (30 saves), peppered with 10 shots in the first few minutes of the third, didn't break until Evgeny Kuznetsov's soft shot went off his arm and in 41 seconds after Nash's goal to trim the lead to 3-1.

The Caps buzzed shift after shift, and cut the advantage to one after Matt Hunwick went off for hooking at 9:29. After going 0-for-3 on the power play, Alex Ovechkin beat Lundqvist with a shot that went off the post and into the net at 10:58.

"It was good for us," said Lundqvist, who had faced only 11 shots through two periods. "It got really intense. My guys stepped up big near the end."

At 3-2, the dead-legged Rangers were forced to ice the puck and Alain Vigneault called a timeout with 6:18 left. The turning point came right after.

With 5:25 left, Nicklas Backstrom bloodied Derick Brassard with a high stick and took a double minor penalty. On the next draw, Jason Chimera gloved the puck in the faceoff circle and the Rangers had a five-on-three. Braden Holtby (23 saves) made several stops before St. Louis batted in a rebound out of midair with 3:48 left for the 4-2 lead.

In a physical game, the comeback by the Capitals, riding a 7-0-2 streak, was impressive. But the Blueshirts survived, and leapfrogged the Capitals into the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. They are tied with the Caps with 40 points, but have two games in hand.

St. Louis picked the right evening to snap a seven-game scoreless drought.

With the Blueshirts ahead 1-0, Ovechkin boarded Zuccarello from behind 27 seconds into the second period, and the Rangers struck again at 1:03.

Brassard, with his second assist, passed to Dan Boyle, and Boyle took two strides from the right point, faked a slap shot and found St. Louis to the left of Holtby. St. Louis scored on a one-timer from a sharp angle.

"I've been fighting it a little," St. Louis said. "There are definitely some comfortable spots [on the power play] that you can go back to. Tonight, I was able to get a couple looks from that spot."

So Christmas will be a little merrier. "We feel good about ourselves right now," Vigneault said. "We're going to enjoy the next three days."

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