NEW YORK — The Washington Capitals showed the urgency of a team that hasn’t secured a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The New York Rangers haven’t looked the same since they clinched their place in the postseason.
Alex Ovechkin scored twice and Jason Chimera added two goals in the third period to rally the Capitals to a 5-2 victory March 29 over the suddenly slumping Rangers.
Washington won for the fifth time in seven games to strengthen its hold on the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with seven games remaining.
“That’s a great thing for our team,” said Braden Holtby, who made 23 saves in his career-best 37th win. “We’ve been a confident group right from the start. We’re seeing it now. We can get through anything.”
On the flip side, the Rangers lost for the third time in four games, including back-to-back defeats after becoming the first NHL team to qualify for the postseason on March 26.
By the third period against Washington, they appeared to be worn out.
“It didn’t seem like we had a lot of gas in the tank,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “It seemed to affect our execution on the ice.”
New York still has a comfortable hold on first place in the Metropolitan Division, but they have dropped from the top spot in the overall standings and in the East.
“There is still a lot to play for,” Vigneault said. “We are playing for home-ice advantage. We haven’t secured that. You also want to go into the playoffs playing the right way.”
Ovechkin had a goal in each of the first two periods, and Chimera broke a 2-2 tie 4:41 into the third with his first in 21 games. He made it 4-2 with 12:20 remaining, and Marcus Johansson added an empty-netter with 2:23 left.
Washington rebounded from a March 28 home loss to Nashville and beat the Rangers for the first time in three games this season. The teams will finish the season against each other.
“When we play our game, we play simple and they make mistakes,” Ovechkin said. “Mentally it’s important for us.”
Ovechkin had gone three games without a goal, but he has scored two in a game four times in his past 12. Skating on a line without Nicklas Backstrom didn’t seem to bother him. Backstrom assisted on 30 of Ovechkin’s first 47 goals, and then his power-play tally Sunday.
“It’s like a married couple,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “Sometimes an odd weekend road trip is a good thing.”
Kevin Hayes and Derick Brassard scored first-period goals for the Rangers. Cam Talbot was back in goal, one day after Henrik Lundqvist returned from a neck injury at Boston, and stopped 26 shots.
The Rangers allowed at least four goals in each of their past three losses after going 10 straight without giving up more than two.
“Maybe it was that their will to win was a little higher in the third than ours,” Talbot said. “Something clicked for them in the third period that didn’t click for us.”
Chimera, who has seven goals but hadn’t netted any since Feb. 6, jammed a puck under Talbot. His second was also scored in close. Ovechkin had gotten the Capitals even at 2 with 8:43 left in the second at the tail end of a power play with his 49th goal.
After being frustrated by Holtby throughout the first, the Rangers grabbed a 2-1 lead with goals by Hayes and Brassard 1:01 apart in the final two minutes of the first.
Hayes was the beneficiary of a turnover by Capitals defenseman John Carlson, who flubbed the puck in the high slot. Hayes slid in the puck with 1:50 remaining for the 15th goal of his rookie season. Mats Zuccarello then made a quick, short pass inside the left circle to Brassard, who ripped in a drive with 49 seconds left.
Ovechkin had given the Capitals a 1-0 lead 4:32 in when he went around Jesper Fast at the left-wing boards, cut into the middle past defenseman Dan Girardi, and fired a slap shot by Talbot.
Holtby had kept the Rangers at bay with several stellar saves, including a lunging stop with his stick against Hayes. He was also helped by the goal posts.
“Some days they hate you, some days they don’t,” Holtby said.
(IRA PODELL, AP Hockey Writer)Source: The National Herald