Displaying the resiliency that has been one of their trademarks all season, the Rangers clawed back into the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals yesterday with a 3-2 Game 3 victory at Madison Square Garden that halved the Capitals lead in this low-scoring best-of-seven series to 2-1.

Brandon Dubinsky, who admitted that his game was amiss in the first two losses, won a battle in the left corner, drove to the crease and his shot deflected off defenseman Karl Alzner’s stick over Michal Neuwirth for the winner with 1:39 left in regulation.

“The difference between winning and losing with this team is really small,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who finished with 23 saves to help avert going down 3-0 in the series. “One game and a lot can change. We know it is a matter of getting that extra play or extra goal and we got it today.”

Goals by Erik Christensen, on a power play in the second period, and Vinny Prospal at 8:01 in the third, provided one-goal leads for the Rangers, but the Capitals tied the score twice on goals by Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble before Dubinsky’s power move.

“I was trying to bring pucks to the net and bang something in there, especially with how much time was left in the game,” said Dubinsky. “It was a fortunate bounce. They got one on their power play goal in Game 2, so we’re even I guess.”

Not exactly. The Capitals, who went back to Washington to practice, will return for Game 4 on Wednesday at the Garden, and with a win could take a 3-1 lead into Game 5 back in Washington on Saturday. Or, the Rangers could steal another home game and the series would turn into a best-of-three.

“It’s 2-1 now, but it could be the reverse,” said coach John Tortorella. “It is that close,” he said, adding that he was not “surprised anymore” about the Blueshirts’ ability to come back from adversity. “My gut has had that feeling from the get-go early in the year. We’ve gone through a lot of injuries. No one was down. But we have to be better in Game 4 because Washington is going to be better.”

After scoring just one goal in the first two games, the Rangers scored three times, and almost had a fourth. An apparent buzzer-beating goal in the second that would have given the Blueshirts an earlier 2-1 lead was disallowed after video review. Ruslan Fedotenko threw the puck from behind the net off John Erskine and it slid across to the post and in, but not before the official clock read 0.00.

It was the second disputed goal in the series. In Game 1, the Caps tied the score with 6:16 to play when Lundqvist initially had the puck under his right pad, but no whistle blew, the puck trickled in and Ovechkin was credited with the goal. The Caps won, 2-1 in overtime.

To a man, the Rangers had vowed to put the two games aside and be far more aggressive at home. “I felt like we wanted to set the tone in the first period and it paid off,” said Fedotenko, noting the 21 hits and the Rangers five blocked shots in the first 20 minutes.

Just 5:30 into the second, with the Rangers on their fourth power play, Christensen finally gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead when his shot from a sharp angle on the right side beat Neuwirth.

The goal, only the second for the Rangers in 163:54 of the series, came after a long delay when ref Chris Rooney injured his right knee, and had to leave the game.

The Capitals tied it with 59.2 seconds left in the period. Ovechkin, who had been taken down earlier in the sequence, got up and headed to the left post and managed to get his stick on Jason Arnott’s pass from the right corner and tip it over Lundqvist. Then came the disallowed goal and the period ended 1-1, with the shots 19-14 Rangers. At 8:01 of the third period, Prospal buried a rebound of Marc Staal’s shot after some gritty play by Dubinsky, but it wasn’t enough breathing room. The could only breathe easier after Dubinsky's.

Notes & Quotes

Ruslan Fedotenko was convinced that the Rangers had edged ahead of the Capitals 2-1 with a tick left on the clock before the buzzer sounded to end the second period yesterday. So did referee Tim Peel, who pointed at the puck in the net.

But the NHL ruled otherwise. Although an NBC replay showed the puck kiss the post and slide across the goal line with 00.1 second left, a video review in Toronto judged that the official time was 0.00 and disallowed the goal.

“Absolutely no gray area,” officiating supervisor Mick McGeough told Newsday. “Straight black and white, no goal…I had the NBC people come in and take a look at the play,” McGeough said. “When the clock read 0-0-0, the puck was on the line, not over the line, therefore no goal, time expired.”

The Capitals celebrated; the Garden crowd jeered and the Rangers headed into the locker room.

“I was 100 percent sure it was a goal,” said Fedotenko, who had thrown the puck from behind the net off defenseman John Erskine’s leg. “But we said, ‘Don’t get your head down, let’s go get another one.’ ”


Brian Boyle had a game-high nine of the Rangers’ 35 shots, which was the most for the Rangers in the three games….Brandon Dubinsky had seven of the Rangers 41 hits…

“They just seemed like they wanted to be around the net a little more,” said Mike Knuble.

“That was the obvious plan”….The Rangers were 1 for 7 on the power play, including a 5 on 3 for 1:25 and four consecutive opportunities in the second period. They are 2 for their last 38 chances. The Capitals were 1 for 3… Referee Chris Rooney suffered a severely broken left ankle will be out the remainder of the playoffs, McGeough said. Rooney appeared to clip the net while skating at 3:44 of the second period. Standby referee Frederick L’Ecuyer, replaced Rooney for the remainder of the game.


Rangers will not skate today, a break that will certainly help. They will meet at 12 and players and Tortorella will be available for interviews later.

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