Eleven days ago, the Washington Capitals bested the New York Rangers in a wild shootout at Madison Square Garden.
When the Rangers came to the District seeking revenge Saturday, the Caps proved they can defeat one of the conference’s elite teams with defense as well. Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin provided the offense, Jose Theodore stopped 21 of 22 shots and the Caps downed the Rangers 2-1 at sold-out Verizon Center.
“I think you’ve got to win every which way,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I thought, especially in the third period, we shut them down real well. That’s playoff hockey. We were playing a really good team, and we shut them down.”
It was the 11th win in 12 games for Washington. The Caps are the only team in the East left with just one regulation loss on home ice after Boston dropped a 4-2 decision Saturday to visiting Buffalo.
Washington (26-11-3) also established the best 40-game start in franchise history. Boudreau mentioned the possibility of setting the record to his players before the game.
“[Boudreau] is all about breaking records, so it was a must-win tonight,” Green said.
New York forward Petr Prucha scored the game’s first goal midway through the second period. Nikolai Zherdev sent a cross-rink pass toward Brandon Dubinsky, who missed it on the first try but collected the ricochet off the boards. Dubinsky then turned and snapped the puck toward the net and Prucha slammed it past Theodore at the far post.
Washington tied the score on the power play 29 seconds later. Alexander Semin, who had missed two weeks with a back injury, collected a pass from Viktor Kozlov in the corner to the right of New York goalie Stephen Valiquette. Semin spotted Green, who had slipped toward the net unmarked, and hit him with a back-door pass for Green’s 10th of the season.
“He wasn’t even looking at me, but the pass was right on my tape,” Green said. “He’s just that kind of player.”
Matt Bradley was sent to the penalty box for putting the puck over the glass in his own end, but Ovechkin benefited from the extra space on the ice. Ovechkin took a pass from David Steckel at his own blue line, faked a slap shot at the other blue line and then wristed a shot past defenseman Wade Redden and Valiquette for a short-handed score.
The shot - which doubled as Ovechkin’s 27th goal of the season and his first shorthander since his rookie season - seemed to fool Valiquette; it sneaked in off the bottom of his right arm.
“It was at the end of a shift probably, so I just wanted to shoot the puck and go to [the bench to] change,” Ovechkin said. “I said it was kind of lucky goal, but sometimes you need luck. It was important goal.”
The Caps welcomed back a pair of regulars. Semin had missed six games after absorbing a cross-check in the back Dec. 18 against St. Louis. Donald Brashear missed three of the past five contests because of a leg injury suffered when Philadelphia’s Arron Asham hit him with his stick.
This game began a two-week stretch in which the Caps will measure themselves against the rest of the East’s top teams. Washington has contests against Philadelphia, Montreal and Boston during this span.
Semin was ejected 4:13 into the final period. After Marc Staal leveled him along the boards and Ovechkin returned the favor to Staal, Semin and the Rangers’ defenseman dropped their gloves near the Rangers’ net.
It was Semin’s first NHL fight, and he received a game misconduct for having his jersey come off during the scrap.
“I’ve seen him fight once before [in practice against former teammate Bryan Muir], but I’ve never seen him drum-roll a guy,” Green said of Semin. “He did well.”