By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 10, 2010; 12:01 AM
NEW YORK - Given the way things progressed inside Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, with more hits registered than shots on goal, it was only fitting that the game-winning goal came as the result of a gritty effort by a trio of blue-collar Washington Capitals who don't usually play on the same line.
With the game tied in the middle of the third period, Brooks Laich skated between a pair of New York Rangers behind the net and poked the puck toward Matt Bradley, who sent it crisply to the slot. Matt Hendricks was being cross-checked to the ice and didn't have time to think so much as react when as Bradley's pass came his way, to fire a one-timer past goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to give Washington its first lead of the game with just more than 12 minutes remaining in regulation.
The shift and Hendricks's second goal of the season stood as the Capitals shut the Rangers down before adding an empty-net goal for a 5-3 victory, Washington's fifth straight win.
"Both teams were playing pretty chippy and very physical early on, especially in front of their net and in front of our net," said Hendricks, who recorded the first two-point game of his career, and added that the game-winner provided some redemption after he and his fourth-line mates Bradley and D.J. King were on the ice for all three New York tallies.
"It does feel pretty good," Hendricks said, "Especially with my role on this team. Talking to Brads and Kinger after we get scored on like that, feeling that we're having a pretty good game. . . . It was tough [to be on for the goals against] but being the role players that we are we can't allow that to happen."
Hendricks's goal wasn't the only unlikely one in a contest that seemed built for the improbable scorers in each team's lineup. Capitals defenseman John Erskine ended a 31-game scoring drought when he ripped a shot past Lundqvist in the second period, but his streak seemed youthful compared with that of Rangers bruiser Derek Boogaard, who scored for the first time in 234 contests less than a minute later.
Not as lengthy dry spells ended for Washington forwards Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich as well, who had gone 13 and nine games without a goal, respectively, heading into Tuesday's contest.
"I had a couple really good chances early. I had close to 50 shots on the season and two goals - it's not going to stay that way," said Knuble, who had three shots in the first period that were all good scoring opportunities. "Sometimes you need a wide-open net just to get it going . . . but you're not out of the woods yet. Just because you got one now doesn't mean a thing really, you've got to keep working and trying to get the chances."
From the beginning, the Rangers appeared intent on making their first meeting against the Capitals this season about a physical undertone as Dan Girardi rattled the boards with a hit on Alex Ovechkin, followed immediately by a hit from Ryan Callahan on Alexander Semin.
Just over five minutes in, Mike Green and Brandon Dubinsky squared off in what would be the first of several melees, but the only bona fide fight to garner five-minute major penalties, and by the midway point in the period the teams had traded goals. Brian Boyle scored his first of two goals to give the Rangers an initial lead, and Laich tipped a puck in on the power play to even the score.
A series of rash penalties by both teams - an unsportsmanlike conduct call on New York and then a pair of Washington penalties 22 seconds apart for too many men on the ice and a hooking infraction by Green - gave an already quick-footed affair more space to open up. The Capitals couldn't kill off both penalties as Boyle added his second tally of the game after a failed clearing attempt by Karl Alzner to give the Rangers a 2-1 edge heading in to the first intermission.
Unpredictable tallies by Erskine and Boogaard continued the back and forth contest with a 3-2 lead for the Rangers, but although Washington seemed to yo-yo back and forth with New York on the scoreboard, Coach Bruce Boudreau never believed his team was out of the contest.
The Capitals proved him right as Knuble smacked home a rebound off of an Ovechkin shot to even the game at 3 midway through the second period, tying the game for a third time. At that point, Washington managed to calm the contest down and Michal Neuvirth made nine of his 25 saves in the third period to go along with Hendricks's game-winner.
"I never thought that we were behind," Boudreau said. "We were behind, but I thought we played pretty well in the first period. . . . The goals they scored were direct results of three mistakes that we made uncharacteristically this year and I was really happy to get through it."