NEW YORK — The line separating fury and joy had always blurred whenever Jason Chimera celebrated goals, but after his second Sunday afternoon, the Washington Capitals’ forward chiseled a canyon between them.
Instead of howling himself hoarse, his lips remained shut. Instead of his eyes bulging wide and his brow scrunching, everything stayed still. After deking past goaltender Cam Talbot and powering his team to a 5-2 victory, Chimera only raised both arms, tilted back his head and basked in the quiet. He was standing atop the world. Everyone else could react as they pleased.
Madison Square Garden, for its part, fell into stunned silence and watched the final act of a matinee show themed on redemption. Forward Alex Ovechkin, separated from his usual center for only the third time this season, bashed away a brief offensive lull with his NHL-leading 48th and 49th goals. Netminder Braden Holtby made 23 saves roughly 24 hours after getting benched before the first intermission.
And Chimera, by virtue of sweeping a goal-mouth rebound with his backhand and juking around Talbot less than three minutes later, ended a 20-game scoring drought, notched his first multigoal game since Dec. 23, 2011, and fueled the Capitals to perhaps their most impressive victory this season, against one of two Eastern Conference clubs it had not yet topped.
“It seems like my last goal was when my kid was born,” Chimera said. “My first kid. . . . I think it was just more relief.”
Soon, once forward Marcus Johansson cranked in an empty-netter to finish Washington’s biggest scoring output in 22 days, the doors opened into an elated dressing room. Chimera cracked jokes, in a raspy voice because he wound up shrieking anyway, about timing his goals so he caught fire for the playoffs. The entire group sang “Happy Birthday” to 21-year-old Tom Wilson, then emptied for the plane ride home, carrying what Holtby called “a blueprint” with them.
After all, if the Capitals could overcome a nasty rash of defensive-zone turnovers, snuff five power plays, weather the storm of two goals allowed within 61 seconds and pummel a Presidents’ Trophy candidate, what more could they accomplish? Where would this lead?
“We play that way,” Holtby said, “I don’t think there’s any team that can stay with us.”
Washington had not played that way Saturday afternoon, and the unsightliness of his team’s recent production — seven five-on-five goals in the past six outings and a dehydrated penalty kill blanked over its last 11 chances — inspired Coach Barry Trotz to pen his most drastic game-to-game lineup change of the season.
He separated superstars Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, both among the NHL’s top five point-getters, for the first time since October. He promoted Joel Ward to the top line, where the veteran right winger had not skated in five months. With seven games left before the postseason, he tossed his forwards into a bag, shook it vigorously and drew out three at a time, like Scrabble tiles.
About four minutes into the game, after the Capitals survived Ovechkin’s high-sticking minor committed 28 seconds in, Trotz’s scrambling paid off. In the neutral zone, Ward banked a pass off the bench boards and led Ovechkin perfectly across the blue line. Ovechkin surged past winger Jesper Fast, cut inside onto defenseman Dan Girardi and fired back toward the near post, over Talbot’s stabbing stick. Maybe a three-game goal drought had tugged at Ovechkin, because he crammed every bit of celebration — the kissed fist, the one-knee slide, the raising of both arms, the whooping shout — into his league-leading 48th this season.
Several highlight-reel saves had Holtby looking sharp after his early exit Saturday, when he allowed three goals on 13 shots. He could not, however, offset two errors committed 61 seconds apart, which soured the Capitals’ fast start and yanked the Rangers ahead. Defenseman John Carlson’s turnover turned into Kevin Hayes’s unassisted equalizer after he danced around Holtby. Defenseman Matt Niskanen’s pileup with Ward turned into an odd-man rush, Derick Brassard’s top-shelf snipe and the Rangers’ first lead, 2-1.
“Looking back at it, now that we’ve won the hockey game, it’s actually a really good thing that happened,” Trotz said, “because we had to recover from something that may happen in a game down the road here.”
For that recovery, the Capitals would thank Ovechkin. With three seconds left on Brassard’s slashing minor, the captain somehow found himself alone near the left faceoff circle with time to inch forward and secure his 14th multi-goal game this season by ramping the puck off defenseman Dan Boyle’s skate. That goal also vaulted Ovechkin onto the doorstep of compiling his sixth 50-goal season, something only five players have ever done, before the third period began and the spotlight trained onto Chimera.