NEW YORK -- As important as the win was to the Washington Capitals, the mental aspect of showing the New York Rangers why and how they can be such a difficult team to play against was an equally important goal on Sunday.
The Capitals accomplished both in defeating the Rangers 5-2 at Madison Square Garden.
Alex Ovechkin scored his 48th and 49th goals, which leads the League, and Marcus Johansson had a empty-net goal. Jason Chimera ended a 20-game goal drought by scoring twice in a span of 2:59 in a third period dominated by the Capitals.
"We've been a confident group right from the start in the fact we know we have the ability; I think it's seeing it now in how we played these last two periods here against the best team in the NHL right now," Holtby said. "It does good things for your team morale. It's definitely something when things are tough in the future, you remember a game like this and we can get through really anything."
The Capitals (41-25-10) are three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders, who hold second and third place in the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders and Penguins each won Sunday.
Washington has a three-point lead on the Boston Bruins for the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
The Capitals are 5-2-0 in their past seven games.
"They might be a potential first-round opponent so you want to create some doubt in their mind," Chimera said of the Rangers.
More important to the Capitals than the stats and the standings is how they responded after giving up goals to Rangers forwards Kevin Hayes and Derick Brassard in a span of 61 seconds late in the first period.
Washington locked the game down, got a game-tying, power-play goal from Ovechkin at 11:17 of the second period, and dominated the Rangers in the third. Not only did they outscore the Rangers 3-0 in the period, the Capitals outshot New York 14-7 and had a 20-13 edge in shot attempts.
Ovechkin said the tone for the third-period domination was set in the second period.
"Obviously we can't give them opportunity to play their game and you can see in the second period when we put puck deep we finish our checks," Ovechkin said. "I think they were kind of not ready and don't want to take a hit. It was a good for us, after that we feel pretty good."
"You don't want to go that long without scoring a goal, but you want to score some big ones," Chimera said.
"We weren't trying to cheat for offense. We played our game," Holtby said. "We developed our chances. We developed our goals. That's how we need to play.
"If we stick to what makes us successful there aren't many teams that can play that way with our speed and size and our back end, obviously. It's a blueprint. It's a good thing being so close to playoffs. We have to use these last games to make sure we're playing all three periods."
The Rangers (47-21-7) lost in regulation for the second straight game, the third time in their past four games and the fourth time in their past seven. They were 14-1-2 in their previous 17 games.
They were deflated by how they played in the third period.
"Maybe it was that their will to win was a little higher in the third than ours, but obviously something clicked for them in the third period that didn't click for us," said Rangers goalie Cam Talbot, who allowed four goals on 30 shots in losing for the third time in his past six starts.
"We've been doing pretty well lately of coming out and finishing teams off in the third period or jumping on them in the third period, but today they had the will to win and we didn't have that. They had the killer instinct."
Washington coach Barry Trotz was admittedly concerned about how the Capitals would respond after their 4-3 loss to the Predators on Saturday. The Capitals were down 3-0 when Trotz pulled Holtby at 14:47 of the first period, but they dominated the rest of the game and nearly finished the comeback.
"You fall short and that can really drain you, and sometimes it can make you go into a little funk," Trotz said, "but we responded really well."
Washington did so in spite of some early adversity.
Capitals defenseman John Carlson lost the puck in the defensive zone with no even near him; it led to Hayes' goal at 18:10 of the first period.
"I think he recovered real good," Trotz said. "Looking back on it now that we actually won the hockey game that's actually a really good thing that happened because we had to recover from something that may happen in a game down the road here. If we can get into the playoffs something like that may happen, and how do you respond after that? Going through an experience like that will build confidence and trust in himself."
Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello found Brassard for a one-timer from the left circle that sailed over Holtby's glove and into the top right corner of the net.
"I think that's a great thing for our team that we were able to battle through that mentally and push forward," Holtby said.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl