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Caps Close Out Rangers, 3-2

December 28, 2013

After squandering two-goal leads in each of the two losses that started their three-game homestand, the Washington Capitals made certain that the homestand finale wouldn’t conclude in similar fashion. The Caps never took a two-goal lead, settling instead for a trio of one-goal advantages in Friday night’s Metropolitan Division matchup against the New York Rangers.


The Caps protected the last of those slim leads to take a 3-2 decision over the Blueshirts.


Eric Fehr supplied what would prove to be the game-winning tally on a wrist shot from the right circle while the two teams were playing with four skaters each at 14:51 of the third period. Philipp Grubauer stopped 38 of 40 New York shots on the night to earn his second win over the Rangers in a span of 20 days.


“It’s huge,” exudes Grubauer of the victory. “Every win is, because I haven’t played many games, so every win is a great feeling for me.”


Mike Green was responsible for getting the Caps started in Friday’s game. At 5:09 of the first, Green snared an errant New York pass in neutral ice and began skating toward the Rangers’ line with purpose. Blueshirts winger Rick Nash hauled Green down before he could tee up a shot, putting the Capitals on the power play.


With the Rangers operating out of a diamond formation on the penalty kill, New York had a man posted up high to try to take away Washington’s center point option. The Caps got shots on net during the extra man opportunity from Joel Ward in the slot area and from Alex Ovechkin from his “office” near the left dot.


The Caps weren’t able to pull the trigger from the point until the second unit took the ice late in the power play. Washington center Mikhail Grabovski won an offensive zone draw, and the Caps began to work the disc around the perimeter. Martin Erat took the puck along the left wing half wall, and carried down lower, luring the top defender in the diamond along with him. Erat then deftly dished the disc back to center point where Green had enough time and space to blast a one-timer past Rangers goaltender Cam Talbot for a 1-0 Washington lead.


Washington managed only four even-strength shots on net in the first frame, but it carried that 1-0 lead into the second period.


Having taken two penalties in the last 9:28 of the first period, the Caps played with fire early in the second when Nicklas Backstrom was whistled for interference at the 58-second mark of the second session.


New York cashed in on its third power play in a span of just over 10 minutes. Brad Richards shot from center point and Benoit Pouliot was parked in front. The latter tipped the former’s shot past Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer to make it a 1-1 game just 97 seconds after the start of the middle period.


Washington was unable to convert on a pair of power play opportunities of its own in the first half of the middle frame, and an apparent Eric Fehr power play goal that would have given the Caps a 2-1 lead was rightfully denied after a video review.


The Rangers began to tilt the table of territory against the Caps past the midpoint of the contest. No longer able to cleanly exit their end and dealing with the long change in the second period, the Caps spent several of the final 10 minutes of the second period hemmed in their own end and dodging Broadway bullets.


After a series of excellent Grubauer stops in a short span of time -- the Rangers put 11 shots on Grubauer in less than four minutes -- the Caps finally nudged the puck out to neutral ice. Washington blueliner Steve Oleksy put a neat indirect pass off the right wing wall, springing Backstrom into the attack zone with just enough time and space to carve in and snap off a wrist shot that beat Talbot to the stick side with 65 seconds remaining in the period.


In a span of 4:23 leading up to Backstrom’s goal, the Rangers had fired 13 shots toward the Washington cage while the Caps had responded with just two shot tries of their own against the New York net.


Erat drew a hooking call on New York’s J.T. Miller with 29 seconds left in the second, an unwise minor for the Rangers’ forward to take at that spot on the ice and that juncture of the game. The Caps went to the second intermission with a 2-1 lead and 1:32 worth of carryover power play time.


But New York stunned its hosts in the early seconds of the third. Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh saucered a perfect home run pass from his own goal line to spring Carl Hagelin on a shorthanded breakaway. Hagelin deked Grubauer, then tucked the puck through the five-hole to make it a 2-2 game just 17 seconds after the start of the third period.


The two teams played each other fairly evenly through the first 14:15 of the third. That’s when Washington’s Troy Brouwer and New York’s Mats Zuccarello were sent off for matching slashing minors. With the two teams playing four-on-four, Backstrom and Fehr broke out of the Washington end. Fehr, a right-handed shot who has been playing left wing of late, gave the puck to Backstrom in the Caps’ end and then slid over to his more natural right side as the lone winger on the ice for Washington.


Backstrom hit Fehr with a pass just before the New York line, and the Caps winger unleashed a wrist shot from the top of the right circle. The shot beat Talbot to the stick side and nestled just inside the far post to give the Capitals a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish.


“It was definitely a hard fought game by both teams,” notes Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. “I thought five on five I really liked the way we competed tonight. I liked the way we played and executed, but this game is a game of inches, and late in the third [period], there’s a turnover in the offensive zone and our gap is just a little bit loose, and the goalie is a little bit off and the puck finds a way to get into the back of the net. We’re going to have to be better next time.”


Fehr’s goal came less than half a minute after New York’s Dan Girardi had hit the goalpost behind Grubauer on a shot from the high slot.


“It’s disappointing obviously,” says Girardi. “I thought we played a pretty strong game. That last [goal] is just tough. I hit the post and they come right back down and score. That’s kind of how it goes in this league some times. You get a chance to score and hit the post, and they come right back down and put it in on you. It’s unfortunate we lost that way but, there’s a lot of good things we did tonight.”


Twenty – Friday’s victory was Washington’s 20th of the season (20-14-4) and it came in the team’s 38th game of the campaign. The Capitals are one game ahead of last season’s pace in which they notched win No. 20 in their 39th game of the season (20-17-2).


Sixty-Minute Men – Friday’s win was a rare regulation victory for the Caps, just their 10th of the season. The Capitals have a dozen regulation/overtime victories in 2013-14, the second fewest among the eight teams in the Metropolitan Division.


The regulation win was just the second for the Capitals in their last 11 games on home ice (5-5-1). Washington has collected six of its 10 regulation wins this season on home ice.


En Fuego – Backstrom notched his 13th multiple-point game of the season in Friday’s contest. He has 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in his last eight games and is tied for second in the league in assists (34) and tied for third in the league in scoring (44 points).


Backstrom leads the NHL with 21 power-play assists and 24 power-play points.


“He’s really protecting the puck well,” says Fehr of Backstrom. “It seems like you need to send two or three guys at him to get the puck away from him. He is handling the puck with confidence, and he is making great plays. It’s what we expect from him every night, but it’s pretty unbelievable to watch.”


The 300 Club – Friday’s game marked the 300th game for Fehr in a Capitals uniform. He has played 335 games in the NHL.


Fehr became the ninth different Capitals skater to register a game-winning goal for Washington in 2013-14. Only Ovechkin (four) has more than one.


Number Three – Friday night’s goaltending matchup pitted a pair of goaltenders who started the season as the third netminders on their teams’ respective depth charts.


Grubauer opened the season at AHL Hershey and was recalled from that team on Nov. 30. With Friday’s win, he is now 5-1-1 with a 2.18 GAA and a .937 save pct. in eight apperances (six starts) for the Capitals this season.


Talbot started the 2013-14 campaign with Hartford of the AHL, and was recalled to the Rangers for good on Oct. 20. Even with his loss to the Caps on Friday, the 26-year-old Talbot is 8-3 with two shutouts, a 1.72 GAA and a .936 save pct. in 13 games (11 starts) for New York this season.


Blueshirt Beater – Grubauer earned his first career NHL win over the Rangers in New York on Dec. 8. He has now stopped 68 of 71 shots he has faced in two career games against New York, including 57 of 58 shots at even strength.


Power Move – Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov notched his first assist of the season on Green’s first-period goal. The helper was the third power-play assist of Orlov’s NHL career and his first since Dec. 31, 2011 against the Blue Jackets in Columbus.


Orlov just missed netting the first power-play goal of his NHL career in the second period of Friday’s game. Only a nifty right pad save from Talbot kept Orlov from converting a back door one-timer in the waning seconds of another Washington power play.


Man Down – New York lost defenseman Anton Stralman to an undisclosed injury early in the first period. Already playing without top four defenseman Marc Staal, Stralman’s injury taxed the New York backline in its first game back after the three-day holiday break.


With Stralman unavailable after the 12:49 mark of the first, the Rangers were suddenly without one of the three defensemen who have played in each of the season’s first 39 games for New York.


Stralman and Staal both entered the game with identical average nightly ice times of 19:58. With those two both out of action, McDonagh (24:22 per night entering the game), Girardi (22:16) and Michael Del Zotto (18:17) were forced to shoulder a heavier workload against Washington.


“You go from six to five defenseman,” begins Vigneault, “and then the top three have to log a tremendous amount of minutes, so that might make it a little bit challenging towards the end of the game as far as defending and attacking, but that’s not an excuse.


“Those are things that happen. I thought for the most part we found a way to compete real hard and just before they scored that goal, we hit the post and instead of going post in, it goes post out.”


McDonagh finished the night at 29:53, Girardi at 27:35 and Del Zotto at 24:37. John Moore (17:40) played slightly more than his previous nightly average of 15:37 and Justin Falk helped out with 11:59 of clock time, on par with his single-game average of 12:10.


“It’s really difficult for a team to go down to four [defensemen], five [defensemen],” observes Fehr, “and for them, right after a break, you’re really feeling it. I think they did a really good job of breaking pucks out, though. I thought we did a really good job of putting pressure on them, but at the end we were lucky to get the win.”


Down On The Farm – A night after suffering a 4-1 road loss to the Senators in Binghamton, the AHL Hershey Bears were back home at Giant Center on Friday night, hosting the Syracuse Crunch.


Peter LeBlanc got the Bears started at 11:40 of the first, giving the home team a 1-0 lead with help from Casey Wellman and Dane Byers. Just 17 seconds later, the Crunch pulled even with a tally of its own. Syracuse added a pair in the second to take a 3-1 lead into the final stanza.


Tyson Strachan scored his second goal of the season for Hershey at 13:09 of the third, Wellman and Jeff Taffe assisting. But Hershey was never able to manufacture the equalizer.


David Leggio stopped 21 of the 24 shots he saw on the night in the Hershey nets.


Hershey plays its third game in as many nights on Saturday when it entertains the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Giant Center. The 12-12-2-3 Bears are now in 12th place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings, four points south of the final playoff berth in the conference.


Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals were back at home at Santander Arena on Friday, a night after they put a 6-2 hurting on the Jackals in Elmira. The Royals hosted the Kalamazoo Wings on Friday, but this time Reading wound up on the short end of a 4-1 score.


Riley Gill stopped 22 of the 26 shots he faced and Dustin Gazley scored the Royals’ lone goal of the night.


The 13-10-1-0 Royals are now six points behind front-running Wheeling in the Atlantic Division standings, but Reading also has three games in hand on the Nailers.


Reading hosts the Wings again on Saturday at Santander, its third game in as many nights.


By The Numbers – New York’s McDonagh (10:46) and the Caps’ John Carlson (10:07) were both on the ice for more than half of the first frame … Carlson was the only Caps skater to log more than 20 minutes in the game; he finished at 26:38. He also led the Caps with five blocked shots on the night … Ovechkin paced the Caps with seven shots on net, 10 shot attempts and five hits … Grabovski won six of seven draws (86%) on the night … Moore led the Rangers with seven shots on goal … Chris Kreider paced the Blueshirts with five hits … Domenic Moore won 11 of 16 (69%) face-offs for the Rangers in just 11:39 of work.