NEW YORK -- Brooks Laich didn't want to talk about his goal, the one that gave Washington the lead late in the second period. Alex Ovechkin scored a goal in his first game back since Nov. 1, but he, too, knew who the real stars were Tuesday night.
Washington's 4-2 win at MadisonSquareGarden was instead about fourth-line grinders Matt Bradley and Quintin Laing, two of the gutsiest players in the dressing room.
Bradley, bloodied and requiring stitches above his left eye after a first-period fight with Rangers wing Aaron Voros, came back to score the game-winner and prettiest goal of the night with 4:51 left in regulation.
Earlier in the third period when the Caps were still clinging to a 2-1 lead, Laing, who played all of 9 minutes and 34 seconds, laid out in front of a Michal Rozsival slap shot and blocked it with his face. He might have broken his jaw in the process.
"I don't know what to say other than I haven't seen stuff like that in a long time," Laich said. "I mean, it's humbling. Guys are blown away in the locker room. The Ovechkins, the Backstroms and the Greens are the backbone of this team, but the Bradleys and the Laings, those guys are the guts -- and that's why we win."
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, who picked up his 100th career win, becoming the fourth-fastest coach in history to reach that milestone, said Laing was staying in a New York hospital overnight for observation.
"I mean, what a courageous guy," Boudreau said. "You could see it from the bench that he was turning and Rozsival shot it and we were hoping it just sort of skimmed off of him but when he got up his jaw was pretty swollen."
After Laing left the ice with a swollen face, the Rangers fought back thanks to back-to-back power plays and made it 2-2 with Marian Gaborik's second of the night and 15th of the season at 8:23.
However, with the game still tied and the clock ticking down under the five-minute mark, Rangers defenseman Wade Redden coughed up the puck at the Caps' blue line. Bradley picked it up and raced into the Rangers' zone, beating Matt Gilroy before roofing a shot over Henrik Lundqvist's glove.
"In that time of the game, no matter what, you have to be extra sure and not be caught on the wrong side of the guy," Redden said. "They made us pay for it."
Bradley said once he got close he only had one place to go with the shot, and that was high. He said he was fortunate to get it up and even more fortunate to beat Lundqvist, who he got the better of twice in the playoffs last season.
"It was special for me and we got the win," Bradley said. "That was the main part."
They did because Bradley ignited them in the first period with an entertaining fight with Voros.
The Capitals' were slow to the party and the Rangers jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Gaborik's first goal just 1:16 into the game. New York was taking it to Washington until Bradley dropped the gloves with Voros 10:39 into the first period.
"It's one of those times where it's probably an OK thing to do because we were down a goal and they kind of took it to us in the first 10 minutes," Bradley said. "If you're ever going to get into a fight at the right time, I think that might have been one of them."
Both Laich and Ovechkin said Bradley's fight got them going. Boudreau liked it not just because it came at an appropriate time, but also because the Capitals are not typically a fighting team (only five entering Tuesday's game, including two by Bradley).
"It was nice to see," the happy coach said. "When you're teammate gets bloodied like that, it seems on this team it has really rallied them in the past. I thought it made us play better for sure."
Less than four minutes after the fight, Ovechkin scored on the power play with his only shot of the game to make it 1-1 with 4:54 left in the period. He also started the play that led to Laich's tap-in goal 15:44 into the second period.
"It's always nice when you get hurt and you come back and you score in the first period on your first shot," Ovechkin said. "You feel pretty good about yourself. After that I feel pretty cool. I was not afraid to take some hits and go battle."
The Rangers struggled to get pucks through on Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov, who faced only 20 shots and stopped 18. Through two periods, the Rangers had only 11 shots, their lowest total through two periods in 97 games.
They had only three shots on four power-play chances, though Gaborik's tying goal did come with the man advantage.
"That has been the trouble, getting our shots through," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "These are things we go over all the time. We are not going to be 26 or 27 percent on the power play at all times. We are depending on it too much."
The Capitals also had four power-play chances, but they managed seven shots and two goals before Bradley scored his game-winner.
"The power play works and they score a goal with a guy who is playing on the (fourth line)," Tortorella said. "That is something that needs to happen our way a little bit along the way, and we are simply not getting that."
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|Marian Gaborik (14) ASST: Dan Girardi (5), Marc Staal (6)|
1 - 0 NYR
|PPG - Alex Ovechkin (15) ASST: Mike Green (16), Tomas Fleischmann (4)|
1 - 1 Tie
|PPG - Brooks Laich (9) ASST: Mike Green (17), Chris Clark (7)|
2 - 1 WSH
|PPG - Marian Gaborik (15) ASST: Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (1), Sean Avery (5)|
2 - 2 Tie
|Matt Bradley (4) ASST: Jay Beagle (1)|
3 - 2 WSH
|EN - Brian Pothier (3) ASST: NONE|
4 - 2 WSH
|Tomas Fleischmann Tripping against Wade Redden|
|Michal Rozsival Tripping against Mathieu Perreault|
|Aaron Voros Fighting (maj) against Matt Bradley|
|Matt Bradley Fighting (maj) against Aaron Voros|
|Sean Avery Tripping against Mike Green|
|Brendan Morrison Holding against Enver Lisin|
|Aaron Voros Interference against Brian Pothier|
|Ales Kotalik Hooking against Mathieu Perreault|
|John Erskine Roughing against Sean Avery|
|Brian Pothier Hi-sticking against Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau|
|Nicklas Backstrom Roughing against Marc Staal|
|Ryan Callahan Roughing against Nicklas Backstrom|