WASHINGTON — Missing Henrik Lundqvist because of neck spasms sustained in a meltdown loss at Pittsburgh, the New York Rangers knew they had to rally around backup Antti Raanta against the NHL-leading Washington Capitals.
Raanta was good and his teammates provided timely scoring and stingy defence in a 3-2 victory Friday night.
“We had a discussion before the game that everybody needs to come show up to the game today and let’s play aggressive hockey, let’s put our bodies on the line,” said Raanta, who stopped 32 shots.
Raanta was so sharp that the Rangers wondered if he only allowed one goal. Jay Beagle‘s seventh goal 10:58 into the second period required a lengthy video review, and New York coach Alain Vigneault said he and his staff couldn’t see that the puck went over the line even after the NHL sent its definitive replay angle.
It was a moot point afterward because Derek Stepan scored the game-winner 17 seconds into the third period, banking a shot off Capitals defenceman Brooks Orpik‘s skate and past Braden Holtby. Stepan’s 15th goal of the season was another example of him coming up big in big moments.
“He’s supposed to be one of our go-to guys and he’s played in important games and he knows that he’s got to step it up,” Vigneault said. “The teams that win are getting good goaltending and obviously solid play from their top players and Step is one of ours.”
Jesper Fast and Keith Yandle also scored for the Rangers, who haven’t lost consecutive games since Dec. 17 and 20. Their 10 wins in a row following a regulation loss is the longest in franchise history within a single season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
This was an impressive show of resiliency because it came without Lundqvist and because New York had to handle responding to a questionable video review and blowing a two-goal lead.
“It was a good sign for us responding under tough conditions, travel here and obviously going against the top team in the league and proving that we can come out on top,” captain Ryan McDonagh said.
There wasn’t much for the Capitals to complain about, either, despite just their sixth regulation loss at Verizon Center. Goals by Beagle and T.J. Oshie got them back into the game after another rough start, and Holtby made 20 saves.
Coach Barry Trotz justified the loss as somewhat of a counter balance to picking up two undeserved points for a shoddy effort Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I thought we played the right way,” Trotz said. “As I said to the guys after the game, ‘I’ll take that game any day of the week.’ We just got to clean up a couple areas and we’ll be fine.”
Slow starts continue to plague the Capitals, who gave up the first goal for the ninth time in their past 11 games. Players felt positive about the second and third periods, but the first again wasn’t ideal.
“If we would’ve had a better start, who knows how that game would’ve wound up?” Oshie said.
Turnovers are a problem too, with a giveaway by Dmitry Orlov leading to Stepan’s goal early in the third period. But Washington has shown a tendency to come back, and it was the Rangers’ ability to shut things down in the third period that earned them a much-needed victory.
“Third period, great battle, everybody,” Raanta said. “We got an early goal, and (for) 19 minutes everybody put their body on the line and there was lots of blocked shots. It’s nice to be in the net with those guys in front of you.”
NOTES: Magnus Hellberg served as Raanta’s backup with Lundqvist out. … Defenceman Marc Staal returned to the Rangers lineup after missing their game Thursday at Pittsburgh with the flu. … Capitals defenceman Nate Schmidt, who missed the past two games with a lower-body injury, could be back for their game at Boston on Saturday.