WASHINGTON – The New York Rangers are thrilled with off-season pickup Marian Gaborik’s production so far: four goals in four games, all in the third period.
Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau is furious about his team’s defensive play, particularly in the third period.
Gaborik scored two goals about 2 1/2 minutes apart, Henrik Lundqvist held Alex Ovechkin without a point, and the Rangers came back to beat the Capitals 4-3 on Thursday night in a rematch of the teams’ wild playoff series.
“It’s why players like him are so special,” New York’s Chris Drury said about Gaborik. “They can change the game on one play – and on one shot.”
Washington led 3-2 in the third period after consecutive goals by Nicklas Backstrom, the first a soft goal allowed by Lundqvist on a dump-in from center ice and the second on a power play. But Gaborik tied the game at the 8:09 mark, then put New York ahead at 10:42.
“I owe him dinner,” Lundqvist said.
Gaborik came to New York from Minnesota by signing a $37.5 million, five-year deal – a bid by the Rangers to boost their offense, which tied for second-worst in the Eastern Conference last season.
Sure is working.
The go-ahead goal came on a power play, when Gaborik took a pass from 19-year-old rookie defenceman Michael Del Zotto and put the puck past Jose Theodore.
“The defence was backing up,” Gaborik said, “so I just tried to fire it between his legs.”
Ryan Callahan and Ales Kotalik scored for the Rangers on consecutive shots midway through the second period, before Gaborik took over late.
“I don’t think he was playing that great up until that point, but that’s the difference when you have this type of player,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “He’s a gamebreaker.”
New York has won three consecutive games since a season-opening loss at Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh. Washington, meanwhile, has lost two straight games – one in overtime – after opening with two victories.
The Capitals have allowed six third-period goals over their past three games.
“It’s a really upsetting trend,” Boudreau said. “Better stop in a hurry.”
He spared no one of criticism Thursday.
Boudreau pointed to Theodore, saying, “Those are the ones, in the third period, you’ve got to stop. I mean, you’ve just got to stop.”
He pointed to his defensemen, saying, “The guys that are making mistakes are not first-year guys,” then added, “These guys should know what … they’re doing.”
And he pointed to his third-and fourth-line forwards, saying, “If you’re not going to score, you better not be on for any goals-against.”
Boudreau ended his postgame news conference by snapping at a reporter who asked about the team’s third-period issues.
“Did we not answer that question a few minutes ago? Of course it’s what we look at,” he said. “Pay attention.”
Ovechkin entered Thursday with five goals and four assists, but the two-time NHL MVP was kept in check by Lundqvist and the Rangers’ young defensemen.
Washington trailed 2-1 heading into the final period, but Backstrom tied it 3:17 in, when the puck went across Lundqvist’s body and ticked off his blocker on the way in.
“Lucky goal,” Backstrom said.
He then put the Capitals ahead 3-2 on a power-play goal – their first with the man-advantage after starting the game 0 for 7.
“The penalty kill hung in there – a couple of 5-on-3s, late penalties,” Drury said, “and we really gutted it out.”
NOTES: This was the teams’ first meeting since last season’s playoffs, when the Rangers led the Capitals 3-1 in the first round, before Washington came back and advanced. … New York recalled F Evgeny Grachev from AHL affiliate Hartford, but he was scratched. … New York’s Sean Avery sat out a fourth consecutive game with a sprained knee.