Stepan’s power-play goal lifts Rangers over Caps
NEW YORK (AP) — Rick Nash’s availability for a key matchup with the Washington Capitals wasn’t confirmed until the New York Rangers star got through the pregame warmup unscathed.
While no one was willing to talk about what is ailing the top forward, whatever it is didn’t seem to slow him down Sunday night.
Nash assisted on surging linemate Carl Hagelin’s tying goal in the second period and registered a game-high eight shots on goalie Braden Holtby in New York’s come-from-behind 2-1 victory.
Nash has been limited to three goals and nine assists in his first 14 games with the Rangers, following a blockbuster offseason trade. But his mere presence is opening up lots of space for those on the ice with him.
“They’re not going in, but I’m getting the chances,” Nash said. “A couple of posts and point-blanks. I thought they were going in for sure. The exciting thing is Carl is putting them in.”
The Rangers (8-5-1) tied it when Hagelin scored at 7:39 of the second. Ryan McDonagh fired a drive from the middle of the ice, just inside the blue line, that was tipped into the net on New York’s 30th shot.
Hagelin has scored five of his six goals in the past four games — netting at least one in each. That led coach John Tortorella to call him “probably our best forward” recently.
“He is one of the few guys who can beat his guy one-on-one most of the time,” Hagelin said of Nash. “That’s why you can hide a bit on the ice and try to disappear. When he makes that move, the D who is supposed to be on me goes over to him, and I am wide open.
“When you feel good, you continue playing well, and goals are going to come.”
One on the power play finally did for New York when Derek Stepan scored the winner early in the third period.
It was the only time the Rangers’ power-play unit connected in five chances, but it came at the right moment and helped snap the Capitals’ season-high winning streak at three.
Washington (5-9-1), which lost to New York in the second round of last year’s playoffs, had been 11-5-2 in its last 18 regular-season games against the Rangers.
“We could have played better,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “We took too many penalties. We spent so much energy killing penalties. It took away from the rest of our game.”
Defenseman John Carlson put Washington ahead in the first, despite the Capitals being outshot 20-8.
Washington went 2-1 on its trip and will play its next three at home.
“They played better than us,” Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom said. “They had better chances. It’s tough, one-goal games coming down to the wire.”
New York improved to 5-1-1 in its past seven, despite entering the game with an NHL-worst power play that connected on only 10 percent of its chances.
The deciding advantage lasted only 7 seconds before clicking 4:25 into the third.
Brad Richards, benched for all but one shift in the third period of the Rangers’ shootout loss to the Islanders on Thursday, won a faceoff and then made a pass to Michael Del Zotto in the right circle. Del Zotto quickly found Stepan with a diagonal pass to the left post, where Stepan scored while down on a knee.
Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 shots for his seventh win. Holtby made 38 saves to earn third star of the game honors.
“I thought we were a lot better than them in the first period, but they had the lead,” Lundqvist said. “The key for us was to stay patient, and we did.”
The Capitals’ power play, which has been surging recently, was held in check on four chances. Its final opportunity came with under 7 minutes left when Nash was called for tripping. Washington had scored a power-play goal in each of its previous six games, connecting on 8 of 15 opportunities.
The Capitals put instant pressure on the Rangers and Lundqvist and nearly scored even before Carlson’s second goal of the season at 1:19. Mike Ribeiro got the puck to Carlson for a hard drive from the right circle that got past Lundqvist.
The Rangers dominated in shots in the first period, but had nothing to show for it despite three power plays that generated five shots. New York registered a season-high 20, but was denied each time by Holtby.
Marian Gaborik had perhaps the Rangers’ best scoring chance during Washington’s lone power play of the period, but he was stuffed twice in front.
Frustration swirled throughout Madison Square Garden as the Rangers consistently passed the puck all around the offensive zone during the multiple man-advantages without producing many quality scoring opportunities.
“Shooting the puck is something that we’ve tried to focus on — just getting pucks and bodies to the net,” Stepan said. “If we play that way and we have shots like that and chances like that, eventually they’re going to go in.”
NOTES: Capitals D Mike Green missed his first game of the season because of an undisclosed lower-body injury. ... The Rangers’ previous season-high for shots in a period was 17 in the third on Jan. 26 when they scored four goals against Toronto. ... Ribeiro, the Capitals’ leading scorer with 18 points this season, earned his 400th NHL assist on Carlson’s goal. ... Rangers C Darroll Powe was helped off the ice by teammates Arron Asham and Stepan after a center-ice collision with Washington’s Matt Hendricks in the second period. Powe was woozy after flipping over and striking his head on the ice. He didn’t return.