The team didn’t panic when a John Carlson slapshot left them trailing just 1:19 into the game. They didn’t waver when a 20-shot barrage against Caps netminder Braden Holtby yielded nothing in the first period. And they didn’t buckle once they finally rallied back to take the lead in the third.
The Rangers defended in their own end, moved the puck well and created good looks against the stingy Holtby, in the two clubs’ first meeting since the Eastern Conference semifinals last spring.
It was an important bounce-back win for the Rangers, who had seen significant leads disappear in their previous two contests. The club blew a 2-0 lead in a shootout loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday, and had a three-goal edge wiped out two nights prior when the Bruins forced overtime in Boston.
“We were patient, so that’s important,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “Right where we’re at as a team, I think this is an important game the way we played tonight.”
Down 1-0 after that early Caps goal, the Rangers unleashed an energetic, sustained attack on Holtby in the first, but the 23-year-old was terrific. In turning away all 20 first-period shots, Holtby was sensational, preserving the Caps' lead through 5:40 of penalty-kill time and a couple of dangerous Rangers scoring chances.
“I don’t think we got frustrated,” said Rick Nash, who was questionable heading into Sunday’s game. “We were getting lots of opportunities. Holtby is a good goalie -- he comes out and challenges pretty good -- and was effective during the first period and really during the whole game.”
The Rangers didn't succumb to frustration and had a good feeling their luck would begin to turn.
“Absolutely. Any time you get 20 shots [in a period] you know you’re doing something right,” Carl Hagelin said. “We were all positive and there was no getting down on ourselves.”
It was Hagelin who was parked at the right post to redirect Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s point shot for the tying goal at 7:39 of the second period. Hagelin, playing on the team’s top line with Nash and center Derek Stepan, now has seven points over the team's last four games.
“He’s probably been our best forward, just creating offense and he’s had the most energy,” Tortorella said. “He’s just that fast. He’s a big player for us.”
Even the Rangers' maligned power-play broke through on the unit’s fourth of five opportunities on the night. It was a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing sequence, from Brad Richards to defenseman Michael Del Zotto to Stepan, that allowed Stepan to finish at the doorstep for his third goal of the year.
“It was a good faceoff win and some good passes,” Stepan said. “Nasher makes a great play at the blue line -- that kinda goes unnoticed but it started the whole thing -- then Richie makes a great play to D-Z and D-Z slides it backdoor.”
With the win, the Rangers climbed a spot in the Eastern Conference standings to seventh place, and halted the Capitals' winning streak at three games.
“I think we’re getting where we need to be,” said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made 27 saves. “It’s a good feeling when we play the way we know we should play and it pays off.”