NEW YORK | Matt Bradley was battered and bloodied, but Brooks Laich knew he would earn vengeance.
Bradley had the game-winner late in the third period Tuesday night after leaving in the first with a cut above his left eye from a fight, and the Washington Capitals celebrated the return of Alex Ovechkin with a 4-2 victory against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
“I went and saw him [during [JUMP]the first intermission] because I thought he was hurt, but he said he was going to continue to play,” Brooks Laich said. “I told him, ‘The hockey gods are on your side tonight. You’re going to score a goal.’ ”
Added Caps coach Bruce Boudreau: “That’s what he’s got - he’s got oodles of character. We don’t get into too many fights, so that was nice to see. When you’re teammate gets bloodied, it seems that on this team it has really rallied them in the past. I thought it made us play better for sure.”
Bradley poked the puck past much-maligned Rangers defenseman Wade Redden along the right wall and then skated around him to collect it and skate in on New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist.
Even with Matt Gilroy leaning on him, Bradley roofed a snapshot past Lundqvist with 4:51 left in the third period. In the first period, Bradley had to go the locker room for medical attention after a fight with Aaron Voros.
“It was no big deal. I regularly bleed, so it is nothing new,” Bradley said. “It seems like my skin is pretty paper-ish, so a few stitches and no big deal.”
The Rangers controlled the play in the opening minutes, but Boudreau - who collected his 100th career NHL victory - and teammates credited him with changing the tenor of this contest.
“He gets it all started. We have tremendous respect for what he does, and he’s one of the most-liked guys on this hockey team,” Laich said. “He goes out there and fights a guy that is bigger than him and takes punches for the team.
“He could have shut it down, but he came back and scored a huge goal in the third period. Everyone is going to be talking about Ovechkin’s return, but I think we should scrap that headline. Tonight’s game was about Matt Bradley and Quintin Laing.”
Lundqvist is one of the league’s elite goalies, but Bradley also scored twice against him at Verizon Center during Game 5 of the teams’ first-round playoff series in April.
“Anytime you can score on that guy, you are pretty lucky,” Bradley said. “All I wanted to do was get in front of [Gilroy] and get my body in front of him, and at that point I had no choice but to go high, and luckily I got it in the top shelf there. It could have gone anywhere.”
Laich gave Washington a 2-1 lead late in the second period with the Caps’ second extra-man marker of the evening. He poked the puck between Lundqvist’s legs on a rebound at 15:44. Laich has nine goals this season, and a team-high five of them have come on the power play.
Marian Gaborik’s second of the night leveled the score 8:23 into the third. He collected the rebound of a PA Parenteau shot near the goal line to the left of Washington netminder Semyon Varlamov and snapped it past a mass of bodies.