NEW YORK, DEC. 17 -- The New York Rangers stacked their lineup with bruisers and they indeed laid a few on the Washington Capitals. But it was the breakaways that really hurt. Oh, the breakaways.
Capitals goalie Mike Liut stopped most of them, but not enough to prevent the Rangers from beating the Capitals, 5-3, tonight in front of 15,772 at Madison Square Garden.
"Against Washington, you usually get one chance," said Kelly Kisio, who had a goal but didn't score on a couple of his breakaways. "If you don't score, it's usually a lost night. But I never had so many chances in my life as I did tonight."
The Capitals led this game 3-1 on goals by Dino Ciccarelli, Calle Johansson and Kelly Miller. But the lead dissolved under a bevy of body checks that had the Capitals looking over their shoulders and breakaways that had Liut fishing the puck out of the net. John Ogrodnick had two goals for the Rangers, the last on a two-on-none breakaway.
"That usually doesn't happen too often in this league," Ciccarelli said.
But it was almost routine tonight, as the Capitals lost their second in a row and third in four games. The Rangers also got goals from Ray Sheppard and Bernie Nicholls, who had the key goal 13 seconds before the end of the second period. That breakaway play tied the score at 3.
"I can never remember a game with that many breakaways," Capitals Coach Terry Murray said. "It's hard to answer why there was a total collapse."
The Capitals stunned the Rangers in their previous meeting, Nov. 28, winning 6-3, to even their series at 41-41-13. The six goals were the most allowed by the Rangers to that point. Peter Bondra had three of them and Liut played one of his better games of the season. But he strained a groin muscle in that game and missed several starts.
Tonight, both Mike Richter and Liut made a slew of great saves in the first period, as momentum seemed to swing every few minutes. Richter denied Michal Pivonka on consecutive shots on an early Capitals' power play, only to have Liut answer by stopping Kevin Miller on a breakaway.
But Ciccarelli gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead on a knuckleball slap shot with 10:50 left in the first period. The Rangers pulled even just after their third power play ended. The Capitals couldn't clear the puck from the crease after it hit both posts and finally Ogrodnick put it in for his 16th goal with 4:01 left in the first.
The Capitals have had trouble in the final minutes of periods, and they would later in this game. But with just 35 seconds left in the first period, Johansson converted a wonderful diagonal pass by Mike Ridley for a power play goal and a 2-1 lead after one period.
With 12:31 left in the second Kevin Hatcher ran into the Rangers' Darren Turcotte, who fell in a writhing heap grabbing his left knee.
"Our knees locked and his is bigger," said Turcotte, who sprained ligaments.
"I didn't even think I stuck my leg out," Hatcher said. "I wouldn't try to hurt Darren Turcotte. I played with him in juniors and that's not how I play."
With another big stop from Liut, the Capitals turned around a Rangers surge and took a 3-1 lead. From his belly, Ciccarelli pushed the puck to Bob Rouse at the point. Miller deflected Rouse's shot past Richter with 7:43 left in the second.
But remember those late-period problems? On they came.
The Rangers moved the puck well on a power play and Kisio one-timed a James Patrick pass past Liut's right shoulder to cut the deficit to 3-2 with 4:59 left.
The Capitals got a power play with 2:43 left. Liut thwarted Kisio on a breakaway during the power play. But he couldn't turn the trick again when former Capital Mike Gartner sent a pass by Mikhail Tatarinov to the streaking Nicholls for a breakaway goal and a 3-3 tie 13 seconds before intermission.
"Too many people standing around flat-footed," Murray said.
Sheppard scored 4:45 into the third and Ogrodnick completed the four-goal run with 4:44 left.
"If it wasn't for Mike Liut," Hatcher said, "it would have been 10-3."