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.
This contest did not begin the way the Caps were hoping for. Gaborik punched home the rebound of a Dan Girardi shot 86 seconds in - the Rangers led 1-0 before the puck ever crossed their own blue line.
Ovechkin, who missed six games with an upper-body strain, needed a little more than 15 minutes to punctuate his return. He was up front on the team's first power play of the game but moved back to the point for the second and blasted a shot from the top of the circles past Lundqvist.
While Ovechkin returned to the lineup, countryman Alexander Semin had to be removed from it. Semin practiced Monday but was unable to participate in the morning skate or play. He took an awkward hit from Florida's Keith Ballard while trying to shoot 11 days ago and has been wearing extra protection on his wrist since.
The Caps lost another player during this contest. Laing slid along the ice to block a shot, but the puck hit him in the jaw. Boudreau said he will stay here overnight for observation, and a team official confirmed Laing has a broken jaw and would be out for "weeks."
"I haven't seen stuff like that in a long time," Laich said. "Quintin Laing blocks one with his face - it is humbling. Guys are blown away in the locker room - just a tremendous amount of respect for that guy.
"The Ovechkins, the Backstroms and the Greens are the backbone of this team, but the Bradleys and the Laings - those guys are the guts, and that's why we win."