When the New York Rangers' Brian MacLellan stole the puck from Greg Smith and sped down the ice for a breakaway, most of the Washington Capitals must have known their time was up.

It was. MacLellan slid the puck past goalie Pete Peeters, giving the Rangers their first overtime victory of the season. The Capitals were 4-0-7 in overtime games before last night.

"Isn't there something called the law of averages when you have to win those games?" asked Rangers Coach Ted Sator, grinning.

"I don't think stats mean anything this time of year," said Rangers center Mike Allison, who has only 13 points this season. "If I relied on stats, I would have been out of here a long time ago."

"We didn't think we were going for the rest of the Capitals history with losing an overtime game," said Capitals right wing Mike Gartner. "I don't think we're panicking by any means. We're an experienced team."

"That might be the last one they'll get," said Capitals right wing Craig Laughlin. "Sometimes you don't get the bounces."

In all, the Capitals were less worried about overtime trends and more concerned with missed opportunities and breakdowns earlier in the game.

"It's one of those things," Laughlin said. "We have a long way to go. It was a few mental errors. But we've been off the ice for four days.

"It probably brings us back down to reality. But I don't think they have our number. We were confident all the way through. Maybe that was our problem."

Perhaps he was right. With the Capitals up by 3-1 in the second period and working on a power play, the momentum turned in favor of the Rangers. "They got a good shorthanded goal and we pulled in our horns," Capitals center Bob Carpenter said.

"The intensity was not there," said Capitals Coach Bryan Murray. "Too many individuals saying, 'Give me the puck.' "

Gartner said the Capitals didn't test Rangers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck enough, although they had a few scoring chances in the last three minutes of regulation and outshot the Rangers, 27-23.

"Certainly, when you have a 3-1 lead and you lose, 4-3, you feel like you gave the game away," Gartner said. "I didn't think we were pressuring them. I don't think we were doing anything. That was the problem."

"We worked hard, but we may not have forechecked as hard as we did in the first series," said Capitals defenseman Scott Stevens. "We had a long rest. The defense shouldn't have been tired.

"They have a faster team than the Islanders. I thought we had some great chances to win in the third period."

"We have to look at the game as a total breakdown," said Larry Murphy. "We have to regroup and play stronger. They proved it tonight. We also had opportunities."

In the end, the Capitals found out that past statistics, including the Rangers' finishing the season two games below .500, aren't going to matter in this series.

"I'm not going to dwell on it," said Stevens. "I'm looking forward to the next game already. We've got a lot of games left. Maybe it's good now because we know what we're up against."

"We felt confident," said Allison. "The Philly series gave us confidence. You never know in hockey how that mental game helps.

"Now, it's going to be another battle. I wouldn't be surprised if it goes six or seven games."