There was discipline, there was structure, there was even a successful penalty kill.
In the end, it resulted in the Rangers taking a much-needed 4-1 win over the Capitals on Wednesday night at the Garden.
The Rangers (9-8-2) had come into the game after a few days off, licking their wounds after getting swept on a two-game trip through Florida over the weekend. There was a debacle in Tampa on Thursday, and a better effort that came up short in Sunrise, Fla., on Saturday. But it wasn’t getting any easier against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals (16-4-4), who were 13-1-2 going back to Oct. 16.
“Everyone knows who we’re facing,” coach David Quinn said after Tuesday’s practice. “Regardless of our opponent, we’ve got to play a particular way. We need to keep building. It just so happens we’re playing Washington, who’s obviously feeling really good about themselves and playing really good hockey, playing at a very high level. We’re going to have to continue to build on the things we’ve done well.”
It sounded a bit like coach-speak, but the Rangers opened the third period holding a taut 1-0 lead. From there, they got another big-time play from their big-time player, Artemi Panarin scoring his second power-play goal of the game at 3:57 to give his team a 2-0 lead.
Off the next draw, the Rangers kept coming, with Filip Chytil finding Pavel Buchnevich to bang one in just 23 seconds later, making it 3-0.
Because it’s never quite easy with these Rangers, Brendan Smith took a tripping penalty and the horrid penalty kill allowed a goal to Evgeny Kuznetsov at 7:24, beating goalie Henrik Lundqvist through a Brady Skjei screen and cutting the lead to 3-1.
But Brett Howden was left alone in front and he lifted one over Braden Holtby’s blocker with 6:26 remaining in regulation to give the Rangers a 4-1 lead.
Just to finish things off, Brendan Lemieux got into a big-time fight with Tom Wilson with 3:28 remaining, Lemieux egging on the crowd as he left for the locker room.
The Blueshirts looked a little different than they did in Florida, getting 18-year-old rookie Kaapo Kakko back in the lineup after he missed those two games with the flu. They also had Tim Gettinger making his season debut, as the 6-foot-6 winger was the corresponding call-up for Lias Andersson going down to AHL Hartford on Sunday.
It turns out that the two days of practice helped as well, with the Rangers starting the game playing tight, not giving Washington much to work with. The few chances the Capitals got, they managed to clank the iron — pipes hit by T.J. Oshie and John Carlson both in the final three minutes of a scoreless first period.
The Rangers opened the second on a power play, and they struck quickly. A great cross-ice pass from Kakko gave Panarin enough space to walk into the slot and rip a wrist shot over the glove of Holtby at 1:14, making it 1-0. It was the 10th goal of the season for the red-hot Panarin, who extended his career-high points streak to 12 games.
The Capitals obviously had their push, which is exactly the type of thing the Rangers had not dealt well with this season. But the Blueshirts managed not to give up too much, and they even killed a penalty midway through the second period, having allowed seven power-play goals on 10 chances against Florida.
When the Capitals did get a chance, Lundqvist was there to make a stop — turning aside all 24 shots he faced in the opening 40 minutes.
“I want to get him back in there. He’s played well against Washington,” Quinn said of Lundqvist, who started the most recent game on Saturday and was making his 12th start of the first 19 games. “The way we kind of anticipate what’s coming, moving forward, I want to get him into a rhythm.”
The same could have been said about the team as a whole, and this was a start.