NEW YORK -- The Capitals struggled to complete a pass, handle the puck, generate traffic in front of the net, stay out of the penalty box and push shots through on goal. All in all, the first 35 minutes of play against the New York Rangers on Wednesday night were an unmitigated disaster.
And while Washington would fight back to tie the game, in the end those early transgressions proved costly. A penalty late in the second period led to Dan Girardi's power-play goal early in the third period and Derek Stepan added the game-winning tally five minutes later in an eventual 4-3 New York victory.
Mathieu Perreault and Troy Brouwer scored critical goals late in the second period for the Caps. But Jason Chimera's interference penalty at the final whistle of the second period led to the Rangers' power play. Just 59 seconds into the period, Girardi took a nice feed from teammate Derick Brassard and buried a shot past goalie Braden Holtby (30 saves) for the go-ahead goal.
At 6:02, Stepan took advantage of a collision between a pair of Caps players. He finished a give-and-go down low with teammate Carl Hagelin into a virtually empty net. That proved momentous when Washington defenseman Karl Alzner shot a puck that deflected off the helment of Perreault on its way into the net at 7:31. But the Caps couldn't push home the tying goal late. The New York victory ties this best-of-seven series 2-2 with Game 5 on Friday night at Verizon Center. Neither team has yet won on the road.
Perreault started Washington's aborted comeback, but the play was made by teammate Joel Ward. With his team trailing 2-0 and getting thoroughly outplayed, Ward drove into the offensive zone and just kept going. By the time he reached goalie Henrik Lundqvist (27 saves), he'd lost the puck. No matter. Perreault was all alone at the left post to stuff it home at 13:08 of the second period. That cut the Rangers' lead to 2-1.
Then, in the period's waning moments, defenseman Mike Green nimbly kept a puck in the offensive zone and quickly found Brouwer. He drove across the middle, using his big frame to keep Rangers defenders away from the puck, and roofed a sweet backhanded shot over the glove of Lundqvist to tie the game 2-2.
It was a shocking turn in a game New York had dominated. Brad Richards had scored first at 16:25 of the first period. Holtby thought he saw teammate Eric Fehr wide open at the opposite blueline. But his pass was knocked out of mid-air by Taylor Pyatt. And while Washington defenseman John Carlson blocked an initial shot by Hagelin, he couldn't stop the rebound from Richards.
At 10:13 of the second, Hagelin made it 2-0 on a sweet cross-ice feed from Brassard. But while that lead eventually eroded, New York managed to shake off those late second-period goals by the Caps and hold on with Holtby pulled for the extra attacker in the final minute to even the series.