Rangers fall but gain ground in playoff hunt

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist allows the game-winning goal against the Capitals. Debby Wong/USA TODAY Sports

Even after moving into the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers took little solace in coming from behind to earn a point in the team’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.

With the Carolina Hurricanes sitting idle, the Rangers clawed back in the playoff hunt with 33 points, although the Canes retain a game in hand.

It’s a tenuous hold they have on that last spot, and coming away with only one point after erasing a two-goal first-period deficit is not going to cut it if the Rangers want to ensure a playoff appearance.

“This one hurt,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. “Right now we need two points, not just one.”

Early on, it looked like the Rangers may not leave with a point at all, as they nullified a decent start by giving up the game’s first two goals.

After Washington tallied on the power play -- the puck hit defenseman Dan Girardi’s glove and glanced in off Nicklas Backstrom’s chest –- the Rangers deflated almost immediately.

Alex Ovechkin followed up with a deflection less than two minutes later -- his sixth goal in the past five games -- that gave the Caps a 2-0 lead.

“I think we get paralyzed after the power play,” coach John Tortorella said. “Why? I don’t know. That’s what we were talking about on the bench.”

With the Rangers bench searching for answers, the fourth line gave the team a jolt when rugged winger Arron Asham tallied in his first game since February 19.

Asham, who missed 15 games with a back injury, went high-glove to beat Caps netminder Braden Holtby on a 2-on-1. Later in the frame, Asham’s linemate Darroll Powe drew an interference penalty on Jason Chimera that set up a 5-on-3 opportunity.

“It was very important for us,” Asham said of cutting the Capitals' lead in half. “It seemed to get the bench going and started to get the team rolling. They took a couple of penalties on us and our power play got us back into it. It’s just too bad we couldn’t finish it off.”

Derek Stepan knotted the game, 2-2, with a bad-angle shot that banked in off Holtby -- the team's first power-play marker in seven games -- but the Rangers couldn’t turn the resulting momentum into a third goal.

Both Ovechkin, who finished the game with a goal and an assist, and Backstrom beat Lundqvist in the skills competition. Stepan was the lone scorer for the Rangers in the four-round shootout and though his backhand top shelf move was a beauty, it wasn't enough.

“I only stopped two of four in the shootout,” Lundqvist said. “I have to be better. You face really good players. I think the last one [from Backstrom] was a really good shot, but Ovechkin, it felt like I had him but I didn’t get the stick down.”

It was the first shootout of the season for the Capitals, who recorded their third straight win and moved into 10th place in the standings.

Meanwhile, the Rangers are trending in the opposite direction.

Winless in the past two games, the Rangers now embark on an all-important three-game road trip that features stops in Philadelphia, Ottawa and Montreal.

“This time of year you have to just move on,” said captain Ryan Callahan. “You take the point -- obviously, we wanted two tonight -- but we’re right back at it against Philly in two days. This time of year, you just have to look at your next game. We played well enough to get the two points, but just didn’t get it in the shootout.”