Another night, another win.
After defeating the New York Islanders last night 2-1 in regulation, the New York Rangers made it a back-to-back sweep with a 3-1 win over the Washington Capitals tonight. Cam Talbot came up huge for the Rangers once again, and put on quite the performance in the nation's capital. In the third period alone, Talbot turned away 16 shots, and also had a jaw dropping save early on in the second from Nicklas Backstrom.
We haven't heard a whole lot on the Henrik Lundqvist front lately, and with Talbot's recent play, I'm not sure the Rangers are in any rush. His strong play gives the Rangers as much time as they need to make sure Lundqvist is 100% before returning to action. There has been a few bumps along the way, but they were well worth it in spite of a 12-2-3 record since Lundqvist went down with his injury.
Coming off of an emotional win over the Islanders last night, this game had letdown written all over it right from the opening puck drop. However, the Rangers did the exact opposite, and came out flying right out of the gate. It took just 8:20 for the Rangers to find the opening goal, and to no one's surprise, it came courtesy of the third line. The trio of Carl Hagelin, J.T. Miller, and Kevin Hayes has been quite impressive for the last little while, and they continued their dominance tonight.
The entire play starts with a quick zone entry by Carl Hagelin, and he tossed a quick shot on net to test Braden Holtby. John Carlson wound up blocking the initial shot, which allowed the puck to kick right out to J.T. Miller who was wide open in the slot. Without panicking, Miller found Dan Boyle cutting down from the point, and hit him with a crisp tape-to-tape pass. Once again, Carlson was able to get a piece of the shot attempt, but this time around, the puck flew back over to Kevin Hayes.
Hayes launched a heavy wrist shot back towards the net, and caught Carl Hagelin up high while he was driving the front of the net. The puck wound up falling right in Hagelin's feet at the top of the crease, and he tapped the puck into the yawning net. The first goal was huge in terms of grabbing the early momentum, but that momentum quickly seeped out a few minutes later.
Dan Boyle wound up taking an interference penalty at 11:43 as he was attempting to move Joel Ward from the front of the net. That sent the Capitals to their first power play of the game, and sure enough, it ended up in the back of the net just over a minute and a half later. Alex Ovechkin notched his 45th goal of the season on the power play, and evened up the game at 1-1.
Ryan McDonagh's failed pass attempt to Jesper Fast started the quick transition by the Capitals, and Evgeny Kuznetsov found Ovechkin wide open in the high slot. When Ovechkin gets that much room to shoot, nine times out of ten, it's in the back of the net. Fast wound up getting a slight piece of the shot with his stick, and the puck actually deflected back on Cam Talbot. Aside from the turning below the goal line, there was not a whole lot Talbot could have done to turn that chance away.
As quickly as the Rangers allowed the Capitals to jump back into the game, they responded with another goal to grab the 2-1 lead. The third line chipped in once again, but this time around, it was J.T. Miller capping off a beautiful pass from Kevin Hayes. Miller caught Holtby off of his angle once he received the cross-ice feed, and smoked one under the bar for his 7th goal of the season.
Heading into the second period, the Rangers were faced with quite the task as they took two late penalties to send the Capitals on an extended 5-on-3 power play. With some help from Talbot, the Rangers were able to kill off the penalty with ease, and buckled down for a hardworking second period. The score remained 2-1 after 40 minutes, and being that this was the second game of a back-to-back, the Rangers had to be thrilled.
Although, early on in the third period, the fatigue started becoming quite noticeable, and the Capitals pretty much controlled the final 20 minutes. Despite allowing a ton of the pressure in the offensive zone, the Rangers did a pretty good job around their net, and allowed Talbot to see everything tossed his way. With the Capitals pressing for the tying goal with under three minutes remaining, the Rangers finally put the nail in the cofin.
Chris Kreider was able to jump the route on a cross-ice feed from John Carlson, and flew up ice with both defensemen caught flatfooted. Surprisingly, Martin St. Louis was able to stay right with Kreider, and he finished off the rush by tapping it by Holtby. The second line has been struggling quite a bit over the last few games, and it was nice to see them get back on the board with a huge goal to put the game away.
During the final two minutes or so, the Capitals didn't have a whole lot of opportunities, and the Rangers held on to win their third straight game. With that win, the Rangers were able to leapfrog the New York Islanders, and take sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers will also have a quite a bit of rest before they head upstate to take on the Buffalo Sabres Saturday evening.