The Rangers had fared awfully well against some of the league's top teams from last season: Beating the Sabres, Bruins and Blackhawks. Yet they lost to the Islanders, Leafs and Thrashers. At Madison Square Garden last night, the pattern changed.
In a wild, competitive slugfest that had a little of everything, including enforcer Derek Boogaard’s first goal in five years---234 games---the Rangers coughed up three leads and fell to the Eastern Conference-leading Capitals, 5-3.
With the score tied at 3 in the third period, Alex Frolov lost the puck at the blue line and Matt Hendricks finished a backhand feed in front from Matt Bradley at 7:53 to propel the Capitals (11-4) to their fifth straight win. Brooks Laich scored into an empty net with six seconds left for the final margin. The Blueshirts (7-7-1), still missing Marian Gaborik (shoulder), who could play Thursday or Sunday, dropped to 2-5-1 at home.
“We did a lot of good things but it comes down to winning,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who was strong in the first when the Capitals fired 14 shots. “We can’t be satisfied even though we managed to keep their top players away from their big chances. They’re good. They don’t need much. And we come up short again here at home.”
The Rangers lost leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2. Brian Boyle, with two goals---the second on defenseman Karl Alzner's fan on a clearing pass on a power play at 12:56 of the first period---provided the Rangers the 2-1 lead. Improbably, Boyle has seven goals on the year.
Far more improbable was the 6-foot-8, 270-pound Boogaard’s rare score.
Caps defenseman John Erskine had tied the game at 2 at 2:34 of the second with a slapper that sailed past Lundqvist’s right shoulder. But 41 seconds later, defenseman Tyler Sloan swiped and missed and from the left circle, Boogaard’s rising slapper hit the net on Michal Neuvirth’s short side, prompting a celebration behind the Caps’ net for the former Wild forward.
Mike Knuble quieted the crowd when he squared the game at 3 at 9:18 by burying a rebound from the slot after Alex Ovechkin curled down the right side and threw a shot on Lundqvist that bounced in front.
“The guy’s wide open in front of me, can’t happen,” said Marc Staal. “We’ve gotta be sharper. We didn’t give them all that much. We just got in trouble in front of our net, they score and we can’t find a way to get it back.”
It was almost 4-3 Rangers just minutes later when Ruslan Fedotenko put the puck across the line, but referee Justin St. Pierre waved it off, ruling that the winger had interfered with Neuvirth in the crease. "Looked like a goal to me," said Boyle. "That's what you're supposed to do, drive the net."
The sellout crowd roared as the Rangers battled for territory in front and stood up for themselves and each other. In the first period alone, Boyle jumped in to defend Michael Del Zotto, Mike Sauer pummeled Hendricks for a knee-on-knee collision that left Steve Eminger on the ice momentarily, Brandon Dubinsky dropped the gloves with Mike Green at 5:17, and Ryan Callahan scrapped and shoved with Ovechkin.
The passion was flowing on the bench as well. Coach John Tortorella received a bench minor for abuse of officials in the first. He was livid about a tripping call on Erik Christensen at 8:28 that led to Laich's power play goal 24 seconds later. “It was my stupidity,” he said, and tersely refused to comment on the officiating.