Mika Zibanejad had two goals and Patrick Kane scored his first Garden goal for the home team as the Rangers opened a five game homestand and held on for a 5-3 win over the Ovechkin-less Washington Capitals last night at MSG. The second greatest goal scorer in NHL history missed the game with a lower body injury.
The Rangers jumped to a 4-1 lead in the second but with a little over eight minutes left in the third, the Capitals made it a one goal game and were dominating the final 20 minutes.
Things got dicey from there as the Caps kept the pressure on but Jimmy Vesey flipped a backhander from his own end down the length of the ice into the empty net with 2:11 left to put the game away. “When it was 4-1, we were playing great up until that point and all of a sudden we get a little, I guess the word I always use is Harlem Globetrotters a little bit,” Coach Gerard Gallant said. “Trying to get too cute, trying to make the fancy plays again.”
Igor Shesterkin made 28 saves including a couple of huge stops when the Rangers couldn’t get out of their zone in the third period. The Rangers were credited with 30 hits, led by Trouba and Alexis LaFreniere who had five.
Rangers took a 1-0 lead at 4:09 of the first period on Zibanejad’s first goal of the game. The Rangers center skated the puck into the Caps zone and passed on the right wing to Vladimir Tarasenko who returned the puck on a give and go. Zibanejad wasted no time in firing the puck past Capitals goaltender Darcy Kuemper for his 33rd of the season.
After Washington tied the game on a goal by Nicolas Aube-Kubel at 14:29, the Rangers retook the lead just :16 seconds later when Zibanejad scored his second of the game and 34th of the season. Artemi Panarin came down the left wing side and back handed the puck in front and Zibanejad was able to deflect it in the net for a 2-1 lead.
Later in the period, the Rangers were on the power play when Kane took a pass from Adam Fox and electrified the crowd with a good ol’ fashioned blistering slap shot past Kuemper to make it 3-1 after one. Kane, who had six shots on goal, is getting more comfortable and now has three goals and two assists in six games played. “I don’t think it’s there yet but tonight was a step in the right direction,” Kane said.
The Rangers outshot the Caps 19-9 in a first period that the players felt should be the way they play for 60 minutes. “Played well, drew a couple of penalties, score on the power play,” Kane said. “That’s the standard for us now, you know we can look back on that period and see that’s the way we wanna play. That’s the way we wanna play every period.”
In the second, Jacob Trouba capped off a pretty passing play to give the Rangers a 4-1 lead. Kane passed to Vincent Trocheck, who fed a wide open Trouba in the left faceoff circle and he was able to blast it for his 8th goal of the season but the Caps answered on a goal by Matt Irwin and the Rangers led 4-2 after two. “We had some lapses of not great hockey in the second,” Zibanejad said.
The Caps had only six shots on goal in the third period but they were dominant as their tenacious forecheck helped keep the Rangers pinned in their own the zone. At times, it appeared to be like a constant barrage coming at Shesterkin, who has lifted his game recently and was able to maintain the one goal lead until Vesey’s empty netter.
“We liked our first period, second period wasn’t our best, third was little bit back and forth,” said Trouba who had one of his patented hard, but legal hits.
The win leaves the Rangers, who have 13 games remaining, with 86 points, eight ahead of fourth place Pittsburgh and ten ahead of the fifth place Islanders.
The homestand continues Thursday night with the first of three games in four nights. Pittsburgh is in for games Thursday and Saturday night, followed by Nashville on Sunday night and then a big clash with Carolina in the first of a home and home next Tuesday night.