Head coach John Tortorella believes the Rangers possess character and resilience. Those attributes were on full display last night.
There will be at least one more hockey game contested at Madison Square Garden in this abbreviated season after the Rangers evened the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series after a 4-3 win over the Capitals in Game 4 Wednesday night. Game 5 is Friday night at the Verizon Center.
“We got the job done,” said Dan Girardi, who was one of four goal-scorers for the Rangers last night.
Derek Stepan’s goal 6:02 into the third period was the game-winner. Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin also scored goals for the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves.
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The series is now a best-of-three, and neither team has been able to win a game on the road in the first four games.
“We feel good now,” Ryan Callahan said. “We have to keep the momentum and keep the confidence rolling. ... It’s a tough building to play in. They play [well] there.”
Richards opened the scoring 16:25 into the first to culminate a bizarre sequence. A shaky Braden Holtby (30 saves) attempted a bad clear that was knocked down by Taylor Pyatt and intercepted by Hagelin, who blasted a slap shot into John Carlson. The rebound bounced out to Richards, who ripped a shot into a half-empty cage.
Hagelin doubled the lead with his second of the series at 10:13 of the second. The left wing one-timed Derick Brassard’s gorgeous cross-ice feed over Holtby’s glove. Brassard has four points in the four games.
“[Brassard] grabbed a hold of it here and makes just a great play on [Girardi’s] goal,” Tortorella said. “He’s stepped in here to try and make a difference and he’s made some big plays for us. I’m not afraid to put him in a lot of different positions in a lot of different situations.”
The Rangers never trailed in the game and, in fact, dominated the Southeast Division champions for the first 35 minutes. But the teams went into the second intermission tied at 2-2.
Mathieu Perreault cut the deficit in half at 13:08 of the second period by stuffing Joel Ward’s rebound through Lundqvist. Troy Brouwer evened the game with 18 seconds left in the period with a backhander after Mike Green was able to keep a loose puck in at the blue line.
“It took us a little while but once we got our legs, I thought it was a pretty good hockey game,” Capitals head coach Adam Oates said. “I think we gave them a couple chances too many. We made a couple mistakes.”
Girardi put the Rangers back up, 3-2, 59 seconds into the third, with a slapshot goal on the power play. Stepan’s goal nearly six minutes later doubled the lead.
“Getting that goal right away by Girardi was key,” Hagelin said. “That’s what we talked about in here [during the second intermission], 'We want to get the next one.' They obviously had a good last five minutes there in the second but we came in with a lot of confidence in the third that we were going to score on the [power play], and we did.”
Karl Alzner cut the lead to one, 4-3, with 7:31 left.
From there, the Rangers implemented a rope-a-dope strategy against the Capitals, who shot from everywhere to no avail. The Capitals had 25 shot attempts in the final 7:31.
“Guys are confident. You can’t panic. We weren’t trying to throw pucks away but in those situations you’re just trying to get it out [and] they picked some off,” Girardi said. “For the most part, guys were blocking shots, keep everything to the outside and we found a way to get the win.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.