Capitals creep back into playoff race with shootout win over Rangers

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

Victory leaves them two points out of eighth in Eastern Conference

A week ago the Capitals took to the road simply hoping to keep their season alive. After four games in three cities over six days, that modest goal was achieved -- and then some.

Washington completed a critical four-game road trip with a 3-2 shootout victory over the New York Rangers on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. Nicklas Backstrom finished off the win by beating goalie Henrik Lundqvist glove side in the fourth round of the shootout.

That salvaged two points from what would have been a disappointing loss after the Caps (15-16-1, 31 points) scored the first two goals of the contest. Instead, they earned two full standings points and crept closer to the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Washington is now just two points behind the Rangers (15-13-3, 33 points) for the No. 8 spot after its third straight win.

"Six out of eight [points]. Could have been eight," coach Adam Oates said. "We played really good hockey. But it's turn the page. We've got a game on Tuesday. Doesn't end."

The Caps struck first on the power play when Backstrom stood in front of the net and had a deflected Alex Ovechkin shot deflect off his chest and past Lundqvist for a 1-0 lead. Things looked good 1:51 later when Ovechkin deflected home a point shot by defenseman Steve Oleksy. Washington led 2-0 at the 9:45 mark of the first period.

It was a nice start. But that's as far as it went. The Rangers quickly regained the momentum when defenseman Mike Green pinched along the right boards and Mathieu Perreault couldn't corral the loose puck. That sent forward Arron Asham off on a rush, and he ripped a shot over Braden Holtby's left shoulder to make it 2-1.

The Caps put themselves in a bad spot as they tried in vain to hold that lead. Jason Chimera was whistled for an interference penalty. Just 25 seconds later Karl Alzner slashed Rick Nash as he drove in alone on Holtby. He saved a goal -- Nash recoiled in pain -- but it didn't take the Rangers long to make the five-on-three advantage work.

Derek Stepan -- who banked a goal in off Holtby's skate from a bad angle during a 4-1 New York win on March 10 in Washington -- did it again. His pass across the crease smacked off Holtby's paddle and popped into the net to tie the score. Washington managed to kill the rest of Alzner's penalty, but the damage had been done.

Meanwhile, the Caps drew a five-on-three power play of their own in the second period. Brian Boyle went off for interference, and Dan Girardi fired the puck out of play from the defensive zone 18 seconds later. But Washington failed to take advantage with just one shot on goal during that stretch. Two other attempts were blocked.

The Caps had one more golden opportunity late in the second. Mike Ribeiro smashed a shot off Lund?qvist's mask, stunning the goalie. Troy Brouwer followed with a shot of his own that nicked the post. Instead of a lead heading into the third period, the game remained tied 2-2.

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner