- Associated Press - Friday, December 8, 2017

WASHINGTON — After believing in the Washington Capitals‘ potential during a slow start, Matt Niskanen did his part to push them further up the standings.

Niskanen scored the tiebreaking goal with 3:22 remaining and the Capitals beat the New York Rangers 4-2 Friday night to move into a tie for first place with Columbus in the stacked Metropolitan Division. Washington has won four in a row and seven of eight to increase its total to 37 points.

“We’re doing a lot of good things,” said Niskanen, whose goal was his first of the season. “Hockey’s a lot more fun when you’re playing well, playing hard for each other like we are right now.”

The Capitals have won eight of 10 since returning from a brutal 0-2-0 road trip at Nashville and Colorado. Braden Holtby continued his stellar stretch by stopping 27 shots and Jay Beagle, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson also scored for Washington in its latest victory.

“The past five, six games, you’ve seen that work ethic, you’ve seen the speed, you’ve seen the determination and that identity of kind of every line chipping in,” said Wilson, who has clicked on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Backstrom.

With six teams separated by five points in the Metropolitan, it was important that the Capitals beat the Rangers in regulation after Michael Grabner and Jesper Fast scored to tie it at 2-all. Washington coach Barry Trotz was impressed by team leaders keeping the mood calm, and players noticed that was a difference from other times this season.

“That game can go the other way fast at that point,” Niskanen said. “We didn’t let it linger. We just kept working and got the momentum turned and were able to pop a couple goals.”

The Capitals are now ahead of the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the standings. But they think it’s a bit too early to celebrate their accomplishments.

“I’m not getting too excited about where we are,” Trotz said. “This whole Metro division is a monster. We’re going to have to deal with it all year.”

The Rangers had won six of seven and had their two-game win streak snapped. Henrik Lundqvist allowed a goal to Beagle 14 seconds in on Washington’s first shot, slammed his stick on the crossbar when Niskanen scored and otherwise made 36 saves to keep New York in it.

“When they turn it up, they’re a good team,” said Lundqvist, who was back in net after missing the Rangers‘ win at Pittsburgh with an illness. “They’re a good home team. When they get going, they can move the puck and make it tough for you.”

The Capitals went 4-1-0 on their homestand, which was a welcome run after starting with eight of 12 on the road.

“We’re finding our groove a little bit right now,” said Beagle, who scored the Capitals‘ fastest opening goal this season. “Some adversity early is always kind of good for the team. It kind of brings a team together and we started getting guys back and pieces start falling into place.”

NOTES: The Capitals scored first for the fifth game in a row. … Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky returned after missing 20 games with a broken left thumb. … RW T.J. Oshie missed his second consecutive game with what Washington is calling an upper-body injury. … The Capitals assigned forward Tyler Graovac to Hershey of the American Hockey League after he cleared waivers. … Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said C Mika Zibanejad (concussion) will not play Saturday against New Jersey, which will be his fifth game out of the lineup.

UP NEXT

Rangers: Return home to face the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.

Capitals: Look for their fifth consecutive win when they visit the New York Islanders on Monday night.


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