NEW YORK, N.Y. – Back to back, day game after day game, away or home: No matter what obstacles are thrown in front of the New York Rangers these days, none seem to pose a threat to the Eastern Conference leaders.
Less than 24 hours after dispatching the Flyers in Philadelphia during a Saturday matinee, Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers hosted the Washington Capitals and skated off with a grinding 3-2 victory on Sunday.
No flash, no showtime. Just solid work at both ends of the ice that produced a goal in each period and kept Alex Ovechkin and Co. at bay.
“We talked about not having any excuses going into this game, even though it was less than 20 hours from the last game,” said Lundqvist, who made 24 saves after stopping 31 Flyers shots in Saturday’s 5-2 win. “We tried to set the tone right away. To get the first goal was big for us.”
That one was scored by captain Ryan Callahan, who has provided the bulk of the offence in the Rangers’ three-game winning streak, following a 1-0 home loss to New Jersey on Tuesday. Callahan scored against Tampa Bay on Thursday and notched his second career hat trick Saturday with a three-goal outburst.
Ryan McDonagh gave New York a 2-1 lead with 6:39 left in the second-period, and Brandon Prust broke a 48-game goal drought with a short-handed tally in the third.
The Rangers (36-13-5) have won four of five, and six of eight (6-1-1). They are 19-5-1 in their past 25 games and 33-10-3 since starting the season 3-3-2, heading into a showdown with the Stanley Cup champion Bruins on Tuesday at Boston.
The Bruins trail the Rangers by seven points.
“It’s been an intense 24 hours here with two tough games,” Lundqvist said. “It’s been a great week for us, and we should feel good about ourselves and go into Boston and get ready for that one.”
New York didn’t need its suddenly potent power play that had connected four times in the previous two wins after being mostly invisible for weeks. The Rangers were 0 for 2 with the advantage and killed both Washington power plays.
Alexander Semin scored, defenceman John Carlson had a goal and assist, and Michal Neuvirth stopped 25 shots for the Capitals, who have lost four of six (2-3-1) and sit ninth in the East playoff race.
Neuvirth got the surprise nod after Tomas Vokoun took the pre-game warmup as the presumed starter. Neuvirth was an emergency fill-in because Vokoun was ill.
“I didn’t really get a warmup,” Neuvirth said. “It’s tough. Early game, no pre-game skate. I got better as the game went on.”
Callahan has been on a tear in the Rangers’ latest winning streak in a season that has been full of them.
The contributions are coming from everywhere.
“This is one of those weekends that we knew were some big points,” McDonagh said. “Earlier in the year we didn’t know if we could come out of here with four points.
“We feel good about ourselves, and we should, but we’ve got a huge opponent in two days and that’s all we’re thinking about.”
Callahan deftly dealt with a puck in his skates, off a pass from defenceman Anton Stralman, who found him on the goal line to the left of Neuvirth. Callahan kicked the puck to his stick, shifted to his backhand and lifted a shot under the crossbar for his 22nd goal of the season as he fell to the ice at 11:01 of the first.
Washington got even 6:31 into the second when Semin took a smooth drop pass from Jason Chimera above the right circle and fired a shot past Lundqvist for his 15th. Semin has three goals and three assists in five games and 21 points in 23 games—including nine goals.
The tie didn’t last long, as McDonagh struck late in the period and narrowly avoided a serious injury in the process. McDonagh toe-dragged with the puck to get around Troy Brouwer and snapped a shot that hit Neuvirth before finding its way into the net.
On his follow through, McDonagh twisted awkwardly and appeared to get his skate caught in the ice, and he crumpled. He was helped to the dressing room, without having a chance to celebrate his tiebreaking goal, but returned before the second period ended.
Prust scored for the first time since Oct. 20 at Calgary, when he also notched a short-handed tally—giving him two goals in New York’s first five games.
Rangers coach John Tortorella felt Prust should have been awarded the post-game “Broadway Hat” by his teammates instead of McDonagh.
“It was good to get that one,” Prust said of his goal. “It’s been a long time coming. Hopefully I’ll get a few more.”
Carlson made it 3-2 with 2:28 remaining with a drive that caromed in off McDonagh.
Lundqvist got some help from several drives that were blocked by goal posts. Lundqvist made a stretching glove save in the third period, and even intentionally used the top of his helmet to knock a shot out of play.
“There is a lot of squeezing the stick and not having the finish we need around the net,” Capitals forward Jeff Halpern said.
NOTES: Vokoun had started four in a row and six of seven. … Rangers D Marc Staal earned an assist on Prust’s goal, giving him his first point of the season in 18 games after returning from a concussion. … New York again was without LW Ruslan Fedotenko, who was injured Thursday against Tampa Bay. … The Capitals were 10-4-2 in their previous 16 regular-season games against the Rangers and 4-1-1 in six trips to Madison Square Garden. … New York is 7-1-1 in the second game of back to backs.