NEW YORK -- Brandon Prust, as he has been doing for a better part of the season, did all the little things on Sunday afternoon against the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden.
He blocked a couple of shots, was credited with a hit, helped anchor a penalty-killing unit that kept the Capitals off the scoreboard in two chances, and was part of a forward unit with Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky that held Alex Ovechkin in check for most of the day.
But for a change, Prust didn't bring Rangers fans to their feet by dropping the gloves. Instead, he did so with his third goal of the season.
Prust's first goal since Oct. 20, a span of 48 games, turned out to be the shorthanded winner in the Rangers' 3-2 triumph. It was the Rangers' third straight victory and seventh in nine games and pushed them seven points ahead of the Bruins for first in the Eastern Conference, the team they will face Tuesday night at TD Garden in Boston.
The Rangers are one point ahead of the Red Wings for the League lead in the standings and eight points ahead of the Flyers in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers and Red Wings will meet Sunday night.
Ovechkin contributed an assist on the Capitals' second goal with 2:28 remaining in regulation that made it a one-goal contest, but he was on the ice for two goals against by Prust's unit, including the shorthanded goal.
"I don't think it bothers him, that it's going to affect his play," Rangers coach John Tortorella said of Prust's lengthy period of time without a goal. "But as far as people that watch him play and see him do all the little things we're asking of him, he's a real easy guy to pull for."
As a group, the Prust-Dubinsky-Boyle line did all the little things extremely well Sunday. They were a combined plus-4, blocked five shots, had six hits, and Boyle won 13 of 20 faceoffs (65 percent). Dubinsky had two assists, including the primary one on Prust's goal, and Boyle added an assist as well.
It was a complete effort against the Caps' top unit of Ovechkin, Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer.
"A big part of their defense, and they basically had Ovechkin whenever he was on the ice, was having the puck," Tortorella said. "It wasn't always defending in our end zone against him. They did some really good things under the hashmarks and forced them to play defense. Dubi makes a really good play on Pruster's goal, and Boyle's been doing some really good things faceoff-wise, checking and forechecking."
All the praise for the gritty work is nice and all, but Prust didn't mind talking about his first goal in nearly four months.
"We played a really good game today," Prust said. "It was good to get that one goal. It's been a long time coming. Hopefully I'll get a few more here."
While the unheralded members of the Rangers shined brightly Sunday, a couple of the bigger names also did their parts.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 24 saves to win on back-to-back days and improve to 26-11-4 this season. Ryan Callahan scored his fifth goal in three games and now has 22, one short of his career-high he reached last season.
Capitals goaltender Michael Neuvirth was the last-minute starter after Tomas Vokoun (illness) couldn't play after taking warmups. Neuvirth made 25 saves in the losing effort.
With the loss, the Capitals remained one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for eighth place in the conference and two points behind the Florida Panthers for first in the Southeast Division. The Capitals have a sterling 19-7-2 mark at Verizon Center, but fell to 9-15-3 on the road, the fifth-worst mark in the League.
"Our special teams aren't good enough on the road," Capitals coach Dale Hunter said. "At home, we are one of the best power-play and one of the best penalty-killing teams. We've got to work on the road special teams."
The Rangers jumped to a 1-0 lead at 11:01 of the first period when Callahan finished a pretty passing play with Anton Stralman and Brad Richards. Richards made a pass from behind the goal line to a wide-open Stralman in the high slot. As the Caps defense moved toward Stralman, he hit Callahan with a pass at the right post. Callahan gathered it in his skates, kicked it to his stick and backhanded it home as he fell to the ice.
Alexander Semin answered back at the 6:31 mark of the second period with his 15th goal of the season. He one-timed a drop pass from Jason Chimera, who used his speed to back off the defense, that beat Lundqvist to the stick side to make it 1-1.
Ryan McDonagh put the Rangers back on top with his fifth goal about seven minutes later, but not without providing a scare for the sellout crowd at MSG.
McDonagh used a slick toe drag to elude a sliding defender and snapped a shot past Neuvirth. But after he released the shot, McDonagh crumpled to the ice holding his left leg despite a lack of contact. He had to be helped off the ice and to the locker room.
Yet about two minutes later, McDonagh returned for his regular shift and finished with a team-high 25:23 of ice time.
McDonagh wouldn't say what part of his leg he tweaked, just that it's happened before and wouldn't be a problem going forward.
"It was a great shift by everybody on the ice," McDonagh said. "We had them pinned down and they were tired. It's just traffic with a simple shot, and it was fortunate enough to go in."
Prust added a much-needed insurance goal at 6:26 of the third period, as Caps defenseman John Carlson cut the lead to one with his seventh of the season in the final minutes.
"When you are down by a goal in the third and you get a power play, you at least want to create momentum if you’re not going to score," Caps forward Jeff Halpern said. "We didn’t take care of the puck, and they go down on a 2-on-1. I don’t know if it is a backbreaker, but it is not how you draw it up."
Lundqvist shut the door with Neuvirth pulled for an extra attacker. In his career, Lundqvist has played on consecutive days 57 times. In the second games, he is 36-14-7 with a 1.82 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.
It's the first time he's played on consecutive days since Nov. 25-26 and just the second time all season. With backup Martin Biron playing so well, Lundqvist has gotten more rest.
It's also allowed him to start thinking ahead to what seems like an inevitability for the Rangers -- the postseason.
"It's hard not to think of what's ahead of us," Lundqvist said. "I have days where I think about the playoffs, what it's going to be like, just so mentally I'm ready for it when it comes. But it's not hard to focus on your job, here and now. It's a good feeling to think about what we can do. It's exciting."
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