NEW YORK — Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers’ mastery of the Washington Capitals dated from last spring, when the teams met in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. But after going 202 minutes 28 seconds without a goal against New York in their previous four meetings, the Capitals decided they had had enough.
Washington scored twice, 25 seconds apart, in the second period Sunday night to create a lead it never relinquished in a 4-1 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. It was the second dominant victory in as many days for the Capitals, who pulled three points ahead of New York for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
Once the Capitals located the aggressive part of their game midway through the first period, New York fell a step behind and was unable to contain the rolling waves of pressure brought by each line as four players — Jason Chimera, Steve Oleksy, Mikhail Grabovski and Eric Fehr — scored goals.
In the other end, rookie netminder Philipp Grubauer was sturdy in his second career start, only his fourth NHL appearance, finishing with 30 saves to capture his first win and outdueling Lundqvist, who made 32 stops. Grubauer’s only previous start came last season in a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders on March 9.
“When we use our four lines we feel fresh, everybody involved in the game and our goalie play well today,” said Alex Ovechkin, who recorded four shots on goal but was held without a point. “Gruby do unbelievable job and give us the confidence to score goals.”
Washington didn’t put a single shot on goal until 9:56 had passed in the first period but once the Capitals broke the ice, they found the pulse of their offense and dictated the flow of the contest.
Lundqvist survived several quality chances in the first, including a shot by Nicklas Backstrom as he drove the net, a scramble in front by the third line and then a tip by Joel Ward on the power play that clanked off the left post. The Capitals’ push continued in the second, though, and Lundqvist’s extended shutout streak wouldn’t last much longer.
The third line crashed the net again early in the middle frame and this time they cashed in to give Washington an initial 1-0 lead. Oleksy put a shot on net that was blocked by John Moore, who threw it out to the left side of the net where Martin Erat fired the rebound back on Lundqvist.
New York’s netminder laid down on the ice to try and smother the loose puck, but he never covered it, allowing Chimera to swat it into the open cage just past his glove with 2:28 gone in the second.
Twenty-five seconds later Oleksy, who had been a healthy scratch for the seven consecutive games prior to Sunday’s contest, ripped a shot from the point that Lundqvist never saw coming thanks to a screen by Aaron Volpatti. Suddenly the Capitals held a 2-0 lead and were playing with swagger.
New York’s most fervent push came in the moments after the Capitals established the two-goal advantage and Michael Del Zotto had a quality chance off a rebound but Grubauer turned it aside easily. He later stopped Derek Stepan’s point-blank look in the high slot and deflected away a wicked wrister by Derek Brassard on a Rangers power play.
“Gotta give those guys in front of me a lot of credit,” Grubauer said of his teammates’ defensive efforts. “I feel like [New York] didn’t have those chances in front of the net, they kept it pretty much to the outside which was great for me.”
When New York tried to fight its way back in the contest, it was the Capitals who generated the better scoring chances and appeared poised to strike again. On the Rangers’ power play, Chimera and Ward both had fantastic opportunities on a shorthanded rush. Then Ovechkin rendered Ryan McDonagh all but irrelevant as he did a spin move but had his shot trickle just wide.
One of those opportunities paid off as Grabovski sprung free on a breakaway but was hooked by McDonagh as he raced toward the net. The veteran center was awarded a penalty shot and scored on an especially wicked slap shot from the hash marks to make it 3-0 with 1:34 remaining in the second. Lundqvist had no chance of stopping the blistering shot that flew past his glove and that particularly flashy tally seemed to simply demoralize the Rangers.
There was never any question in Grabovski’s mind how he was going to approach the attempt.
“If you know one-timer, it’s going to be right away in your head,” Grabovski said. “He kind of pretty good goalie to move side to side, it’s very hard to score — you just need to shoot.”
New York couldn’t even muster a half-hearted comeback effort in the third period. The Capitals went up 4-0 with less than three minutes remaining in regulation when Fehr scored. While Rangers forward Benoit Pouliot sullied Grubauer’s shutout bid 64 seconds later with a deflection in the slot, the goal was of little overall consequence.
“Grabo’s penalty shot made a big difference. We had a few breakaways there, we didn’t get it and I was starting to wonder like, ‘Oh no, here we go again,’ and then the penalty shot was big, made it 3-0 and we got through the second period that way,” Coach Adam Oates said. “We did a really good job early in the third to stifle them and the place was kind of quiet, which is always a good feeling on the road. And you know what, we haven’t had that luxury, so we enjoyed it.”
Capitals notes: Brooks Laich, who missed a fifth consecutive game with a strained right groin muscle, skated for the first time since Nov. 27 back in Arlington. Oates ruled him out of Tuesday’s game against Tampa Bay, saying the forward would need several days of on-ice workouts without any setbacks before he could rejoin the lineup.