The New York Rangers refuse to quit. Twice trailing by two goals tonight at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers battled back to defeat the Washington Capitals, 6-5, on Bob Brooke's goal at 2:40 of sudden-death overtime, tying the best-of-seven Patrick Division final series at two games apiece.
It was Brooke who forced the extra period when he converted Brian MacLellan's pass with 2:35 remaining in regulation time.
A deflected shot by the Rangers' Larry Melnyk struck a post a little more than a minute before Brooke's winning goal. Then Brooke picked off an outlet pass by Washington's Scott Stevens at the top of the right wing circle, controlled the puck despite the reaching sticks of two Capitals and shot it off the skate of defenseman Greg Smith and between the pads of goaltender Pete Peeters.
"Scott Stevens rounded the net and he saw Alan Haworth actually Mike Gartner behind me," Brooke said. "With his wheels, you want to give him the puck in overtime. Fortunately, I saw him, too, and I was able to step in front of him and take it away. I shot it and it got by. Personally, I feel like I'm just about on cloud nine right now."
The Rangers, whose other series victory also came in overtime, will visit sold-out Capital Centre for Game 5 Friday night. Until this series, Washington had been unbeaten in 25 overtime games, the Rangers winless in 21.
This one appeared to be over when the Rangers made a horrible change on a power play and it cost them a shorthanded goal by Smith that lifted Washington into a 5-3 lead with only 12:15 remaining in regulation time.
Gaetan Duchesne dumped the puck into the New York end and every Ranger except Reijo Ruotsalainen was skating for the bench. Seeing the situation, Duchesne chased the puck and beat Ruotsalainen to it, then fed Smith, who was open in the right wing circle. Smith shot it into the far corner before anyone could come to Ruotsalainen's aid.
"There was a little bit of a communications problem," said New York Coach Ted Sator. "We thought the puck was going up the ice. Obviously, we didn't want to change when it was going into our end. That could have killed us. But you can't cry over it. The fact that we jumped right back in and scored kept us from spending much time thinking about what a dumb thing we'd done."
It took only 24 seconds, still on the power play, for the Rangers to close within 5-4. Mike Allison made a sharp pass out of the left wing corner to point man Willie Huber, who had pinched into the slot, and Huber lined it past Peeters with Tomas Sandstrom providing a screen.
Each team had some good chances the rest of the way, with New York goalie John Vanbiesbrouck foiling Gartner at point-blank range with 3:30 left.
A minute later, the Rangers' Wilf Paiement checked Kevin Hatcher off the puck behind the Washington net. Stevens failed in an attempt to control it and MacLellan was able to pass it out to Brooke, who hit the short side from the inner edge of the right wing circle.
"My wingers did all the work on that one," Brooke said. "Wilf left it for Brian and he put it on my stick."
"I hit Hatcher with a hip check and the puck came loose," Paiement said. "I poked the puck and MacLellan picked it up and Brooke made a hell of a shot."
"They dumped the puck in and I tried to hook the net, because I felt someone behind me," Hatcher said. "A guy cut me up and I tried to knock it out. But they got a piece of it and it came to Brooke. We let down, gave them too many chances. We don't usually give up six goals."
The Rangers were in control in the overtime and, although Brooke's shot was the only one of the extra time, the puck was in the Washington end almost throughout, with Melnyk's post pattern merely delaying the celebration.
"We were outplayed in the overtime," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "I don't know what we were thinking about. We got five goals on the road and we very rarely give up six. It worries me that we lost the game, but like in the past, I know we can come back."
"We had a lot of pressure on them in the third period and I don't think it should have gone into overtime," Stevens said. "It's tough when you have a two-goal lead and let them come back like that. But these things happen. On that last goal, I saw Mike Gartner in the center, but a Ranger Brooke stepped in and picked it off. I can't let that bother me. We're going home now and we have to take a positive look at it."
A positive approach would be the fact that the Capitals have trailed for exactly 25 seconds during seven playoff games. That was the stretch tonight in which Paiement's first-period power-play goal had New York in front, 1-0.
Dave Christian wiped that out on Washington's fifth shot, Hatcher sent the Capitals in front on the seventh and Bob Carpenter boosted the advantage to 3-1 on the eighth.
The Rangers, who had come out hitting everybody that moved in a Washington uniform, contributed to a first-period total of 18 penalties. But their overall play was nothing to write home about and Sator's between-periods comments brought them back to reality.
"There is a time when the coach has to lay down the law and that was it," Brooke said. "You can't wait until you're six feet under. He had a few choice words, but he didn't rant and rave. It was the plain truth and we all knew it. There was no intensity; we were far too tense out there."
The Rangers, who had wiped out a 3-1 deficit to tie the first game before pulling it out in overtime, needed but 8 1/2 minutes to deadlock this one.
After Kelly Miller hit a post, Tom Laidlaw retrieved the puck in the left wing corner and passed to Pierre Larouche, who relayed the puck from behind the goal line to Mike Ridley at the left hash mark. The resulting short-side goal was the fifth of the playoffs for Ridley, a rookie out of the University of Manitoba.
Not long after, Ruotsalainen crossed the Washington blue line on the right wing and dropped a pass to Sandstrom, who beat Peeters on the short side when the goalie came out to challenge him.
Just 61 seconds shy of the second intermission, Bob Gould moved the Capitals back into the lead. Carpenter skated down the left wing, avoiding Melnyk. As Huber moved over to try to check him, Carpenter put a perfect pass on the stick of Gould skating down the slot ahead of Mike Allison.
The psychological effect of a goal so close to the break would seem to be huge. When the shorthanded goal compounded things, it figured to be over. The Rangers thought otherwise.