Stepan’s goal 6 minutes 2 seconds into the third period stood as the decisive tally in New York’s 4-3 win over the Capitals at Madison Square Garden, knotting the first-round series at two games apiece.
Washington is 0-6 all time in series after leading two-games-to-one and then losing in Game 4.
Long before Stepan’s goal, though, the Capitals looked sloppy and unlike the team that came to New York with a 2-0 series lead. For the first time in this matchup, and perhaps the past several months, Washington was thoroughly outplayed at even strength — especially in the first half of the contest. Despite erasing a two-goal deficit at one point, they were never able to establish control.
“We didn’t play good. We played bad for 45 minutes, and that’s not fun either,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We just need to get back to the basics. We got away from it. It wasn’t easy to handle the puck out there today, and we needed to play much simpler hockey than we did.”
The Rangers’ intensity was palpable from the opening faceoff as their forecheck finally found its footing. By the midpoint of the second period, the Capitals had yet to manage anything resembling a clean breakout. On the rare occasion when they did cross the blue line, they regularly turned the puck over in the neutral zone, returning quickly to their own end.
“They came out, tried to be a little physical. We talked about that,” Coach Adam Oates said. “You expect that. It’s their building, you’ve got to handle that little initial wave and then power plays didn’t do anything. We got a little frustrated with that, and then we gave them a goal. So it was a lousy start.”
Dominating for the majority of the opening frame, the Rangers eventually capitalized after disrupting a clearing attempt by Braden Holtby.
Carl Hagelin raced into the zone on the forecheck as the netminder drifted out to make a long outlet pass, but Hagelin pulled up at the last second and curled into the slot. Holtby sent the pass, perhaps his greatest gaffe of the series, up the middle of the ice. Taylor Pyatt swatted it out of the air, sending the Capitals, goaltender included, scrambling back toward the crease. But it was too late.
Defenseman John Carlson stood in front and blocked the first shot by Hagelin, but the rebound popped out to Brad Richards. Holtby had slid past the yawning cage and was helpless as Richards put the Rangers up, 1-0, with 16:25 gone in the first.