NEW YORK, N.Y. – The New York Rangers got just the offensive lift they were looking for when they pulled off a big trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
No, not the deal that brought Rick Nash to Broadway, but the key move just before the trade deadline that sent Marian Gaborik to Columbus for a package of players that included Derick Brassard.
Nash recorded his first playoff point with the Rangers when he set up Derek Stepan for the winning goal of New York’s 4-3 victory over the Washington Capitals on Monday night—but the rest of the night belonged to Brassard, Nash’s former and current teammate.
Those performances were enough to cut the Rangers’ deficit to 2-1 in the best-of-seven, first-round series that continues with Game 4 on Wednesday night.
New York managed only one goal in the first two games of the series, a pair of losses in Washington. Brassard scored once on Monday and had two assists to breathe life back into the Rangers’ previously dormant offence.
“The fact that we came back here in our building helps a lot,” said the 25-year-old Brassard, who had a goal and three assists in his Rangers debut April 3 against Pittsburgh. “In Washington we were grabbing our sticks a little too hard. Tonight we just had fun.
“We made plays, we put some pucks on net. That’s what we need to do for the rest of the series.”
Brassard became the first player with four points in his Rangers regular-season debut since Doug Bentley on Jan. 24, 1954, against Boston.
He did himself one better on Monday. Brassard recorded the most points in a Rangers home playoff debut since Sergei Zubov also had a goal and two assists on April 17, 1994, against the New York Islanders, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“I thought he played a complete game,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said of Brassard.
Stepan and Arron Asham both scored tiebreaking goals in the third period for the Rangers, who held on through a late short-handed dilemma to earn their first win of the series.
“It was do-or-die for us,” Brassard said. “We competed really hard for 60 minutes. We stuck up for each other, and that’s what we need to do.”
Stepan gave the Rangers the lead for good with 6:25 remaining when he deftly tipped in a pass in front from Rick Nash. Asham had put New York in front 3-2 at 2:53, but Jay Beagle got the Capitals even again 4:26 later.
“It was an interesting game,” Stepan said. “The flows of it were up and down. Early lead, they tie it. We get another one, they tie it. As a team we just stuck together. On the bench everyone had a good feeling.”
The Rangers broke out after going without a goal since the first period of Game 1—a stretch of 124 minutes, 6 seconds.
That streak was broken by Brian Boyle’s tally that made it 1-1.
Until then, New York had been shut down by goalie Braden Holtby, who had suggested he wasn’t tested much in Washington’s 1-0 overtime victory on Saturday. He had plenty to deal with when the series shifted to Madison Square Garden.
“It’s great, we put a few behind him,” Boyle said. “We have to keep that same mentality. We have to keep shooting pucks.”
Nicklas Backstrom gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead 4:06 in, but Brassard put the Rangers in front in the second period with the team’s first power-play goal in the series. Asham gave New York a 3-2 lead.
Mike Green, who netted the overtime winner in Game 2, had tied it for the Capitals in the second period. Henrik Lundqvist was sharp in making 28 saves. Holtby countered with a 26-save effort.
“We’ll regroup here,” Green said. “It’s obviously disappointing, but that’s why it’s seven games. It’s unfortunate. We wanted to be up three, but we’ve got a lot of work to do, and we know that.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
Lundqvist had to hold off the surging Capitals in the closing minutes after Brad Richards was whistled for high-sticking Alex Ovechkin. Washington couldn’t tie it again, even after pulling Holtby for an extra skater.
“You don’t have a lot of chances to play 6-on-4,” Ovechkin said. “It’s a totally different picture out there. It’s a situation where you have to find the shooting lane and shoot it.”
Shooting more was a philosophy the Rangers adopted for this game, especially on the power play.
New York generated offence with its struggling power play that had failed to score on seven chances in Washington.
The Rangers used every bit of their second advantage of the first period, when Boyle scored exactly two minutes after Joel Ward was sent off for high-sticking Brassard.
Boyle, who returned to the lineup for Game 2 on Saturday following a knee injury, carried the puck from the right-wing wall, cut into the circle, shifted the puck to both sides of his stick, and flipped a shot over a crouched Green and past Holtby at 12:50 for what was technically an even-strength goal.
That got the Rangers even and took some of the nervous tension out of the crowd that had already let out loud groans after Backstrom gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead when he deflected in John Carlson’s shot in the slot.
“We accomplished what we set out to do,” Boyle said. “We could only control Game 3. It was by no means easy. They came hard, but it was a good win for us. We can enjoy it for a little bit, but we have to make it stand up.”
The Rangers grabbed the lead back with Brassard’s power-play goal 1:23 into the second. What made this one even more unique was the fact New York got the advantage when Holtby tripped Nash as he skated out from behind the net.
It took only eight seconds of power-play time for the Rangers to cash in. Mats Zuccarello sent a pass from near the right point into the slot to Brassard, who beat Holtby with a quick drive and then flashed an emphatic fist pump to celebrate his first NHL playoff goal.
Lundqvist was strong throughout the second period and did his part to keep the Rangers in front.
After heavy pressure by the Capitals in the New York end, Lundqvist made a pad save on a point-blank drive from the slot. That didn’t end the Washington attack, as Green let go a shot that Lundqvist snared with his glove to get a stoppage of play.
It also elicited a healthy chant of “Hen-rik, Hen-rik” from the crowd that sensed every save was crucial because of the Rangers’ slumping offence.
“There was a lot of determination going into this game,” Lundqvist said. “We knew we had to win this one. They’re a good team, and you have to respect that, but we scored some big goals.”