NEW YORK – So little has gone right for the New York Rangers lately, that even when they scored the winning goal in the shootout no one really knew if it would count.
Pulling a page out of the knock hockey playbook, Ryan Callahan scored the decisive goal in New York’s 5-4 victory over the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night with a drive that struck the crossbar and then caromed in off the skates and stick of surprised goalie Jose Theodore.
“To be honest, I thought when it hits the crossbar and comes back out it’s no play,” a disappointed Theodore said. “I didn’t really try to get out of the way because for me it was no goal.
“Obviously, I was wrong, so it’s a lesson that I learned, I guess.”
The Rangers had lost a season-worst five straight games (0-4-1) and needed a win to ensure they wouldn’t fall to seventh place in the Eastern Conference. New York coach Tom Renney admitted he also wasn’t aware of the shootout rule.
“No, not at all,” he said, “but I’m OK with it.”
That was the difference on a night otherwise dominated by Capitals defenceman Mike Green, who scored twice to tie the NHL record for defenceman with goals in seven straight games.
Washington, the leader in the Southeast Division, was caught by the Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey Devils in the race for the No. 2 seed in the East. Both teams have 73 points in 55 games, but the Devils have 35 wins – one more than the Capitals.
“It felt like a playoff game out there,” Green said. “I think we’re happy with the point. Obviously we wanted that second one, but we played well.”
Callahan, who had a goal and assist, scored in the fourth round of the tiebreaker. Henrik Lundqvist sealed the win by stopping Brooks Laich. Nigel Dawes also scored in the shootout for the Rangers, but Alex Ovechkin forced the extra round.
Despite going 0-for-6 on the power play – including five chances and a brief two-man advantage in the scoreless third period – the Rangers shook off two blown leads and rallied to win.
Lauri Korpikoski, Markus Naslund and Paul Mara also had goals for the Rangers, who hadn’t scored more than three in their previous six games and had been outscored 22-5 during their skid.
“We really needed that,” said Lundqvist, who made 26 saves. “We needed that confidence. We needed those points, too.”
Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr scored first-period goals for the Capitals, who also led twice. Theodore stopped 28 shots.
The game broke wide open in the second period when the teams combined for five goals yet finished the frame in a 4-4 tie.
New York struck first to get even at 2-2 and did it with its first shot of the period 8:49 into it. Marc Staal sent in a drive from the left point that struck Korpikoski. The Rangers rookie found the puck and knocked in his fourth goal.
Green put the Capitals back in front with a hard, rising wrister from just inside the top edge of the right circle at 10:32. That tied the record set by Boston’s Mike O’Connell, who scored in seven straight games during 1983-84 season.
“Things just seem to be rolling lately,” Green said. “It feels pretty special. I honestly didn’t even realize (the record) until yesterday. I tried not to think about it before the game, but I’m pretty happy right now.”
Ovechkin retrieved the puck for Green and flipped it into the Washington bench for safekeeping.
Naslund needed just 1:07 to bring the Rangers into the third tie of the game, and he did it by following the puck into the net with a skates-first slide.
Mara staked the Rangers to their second lead of the night with four minutes left in the period, beating Theodore with a hard slap shot from above the left circle to make it 4-3.
Green struck again with his career-best 21st goal. From the right-wing boards, Green beat a screened Lundqvist to get the Capitals even at 4-4 with 57.6 seconds left in the period.
Green has two goals in two consecutive games and has posted six straight multipoint efforts.
The Rangers came out with their fists flying and they looked to send a message. Heavyweight Colton Orr took on Capitals counterpart Donald Brashear, considered the toughest fighter in the NHL, off a faceoff just 2:43 in. Just three seconds later, New York’s Aaron Voros dropped the gloves with Matt Bradley.
Callahan gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead 7:33 in, when he took a perfect cross-ice feed from Korpikoski near the right post and easily steered the puck in for his 13th goal.
Fleischmann tied it 1-1 at 10:51 and then earned the primary assist on Fehr’s goal with 1:52 remaining in the first period that gave the Capitals the lead.
Notes: Green, who leads NHL defencemen in goals and points, has nine goals and seven assists during his streak. … Washington LW Alexander Semin sat out with an undisclosed injury. Jay Beagle made his NHL debut in Semin’s place. … The Rangers are in a 1-for-23 power-play slump.