"I thought it was really good under the conditions and the circumstances, of really everything," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette of the victory. "The injuries, and T.J. [Oshie] and the things that happened. I thought the first 10 minutes of the second period got away from us a little bit, but from that point on I thought we went back and played really well, did a lot of things right and got back on track here."
Ah yes, all the things that happened.
Early in the day, the Caps learned they'd be without right wing T.J. Oshie, who wasn't available for Monday's game because of a personal/family matter. Later in the afternoon, they learned they'd be without center Evgeny Kuznetsov and goaltender Ilya Samsonov, both of whom were sidelined for disciplinary reasons, a team decision. The Caps also didn't have defenseman Justin Schultz (lower body), who has now missed four of the last six games with that injury.
All that bad news was somewhat mitigated by the hope that Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson might be well enough to return; both participated in the morning skate after Ovechkin missed the previous four games and Carlson the previous two games, both with lower body injuries. Even with Ovechkin and Carlson dressed, the Caps would be starting the game with just 17 skaters for salary cap reasons.
Both players dressed, but Ovechkin retired for the night after a single shift early in the first, leaving the Caps with 10 forwards for the remainder of the evening. But six of those 10 forwards scored for Washington on Monday, helping the team avoid a third straight loss for the first time in nearly three months, and against a team that has vexed them for much of this season.
"I think it's a gutsy win coming down the stretch," says Carlson. "These are important points, important games for us as a team. There were a lot of guys battling extra hard, and it wasn't the easiest of games the way it played out. I like the way we stuck with it and overcame some adversity throughout different points of the game which turned out pretty big at the end."
Video: Postgame | John Carlson
After killing off an early New York power play without, the Caps grabbed a 1-0 lead mere seconds after the final television timeout of the first period.
Coming out of the timeout, Nic Dowd won a face-off in Washington ice. Garnet Hathaway quickly broke the puck out of the Caps' end, feeding Carl Hagelin in neutral ice. Hagelin bumped it to Dowd, who gained the line and fired a shot past New York's Igor Shesterkin, just eight seconds after the draw in the Washington end.
Dowd's goal marked the first time Washington has led in three games here in New York this season. Less than two minutes later, the Caps doubled their advantage.
Coming into New York ice down the left-wing wall, Conor Sheary rolled the puck around the wall and went to the back door on the left side. Tom Wilson collected it on the right half-wall and went to the middle for Michael Raffl, who kicked it with his skate blade straight to Sheary. From just off the left post on the weak side, Sheary spun and slipped a shot through on the short side, making it 2-0 at 15:44.
New York's eminently dangerous top trio got one of those goals back with exactly two minutes left in the first. Mika Zibanejad scored off the rush, firing a shot to the top far corner of the cage from the left circle to make it 2-1 aft the first intermission.
Early in the second, the Caps ran into some penalty woes. New York tied it up on the power play early in the middle frame, Zibanejad netting his second of the night at 2:30 when he finished off a tic-tac-toe sequence on a New York power play.
Just over two minutes later, the Rangers took the lead when Kaapo Kakko converted an Alexis Lafreniere feed on a 2-on-1 rush, putting New York up 3-2 at 4:35 of the second.
Caps coach Peter Laviolette called his timeout at that juncture.
Less than two minutes later, Washington was deemed guilty of having too many dudes on the ice, giving the Rangers another opportunity with the extra man. Late in that power play, a multi-player scrum broke out after the whistle, resulting in multiple penalties, and a 5-on-3 for the Rangers for 27 seconds. Wilson was tagged with a double-minor and a 10-minute misconduct, taking him out of commission for the rest of the period, and leaving Washington with nine forwards for the remainder of the second and into the early minutes of the third.
The Caps navigated their way through that patch of peril, and they finally managed to get the game tied up late in the period.
Dowd got in on the forecheck and picked the pocket of Rangers defenseman K'Andre Miller, who was at the end of a 90-second shift. Dowd and his linemates swarmed the front of the Rangers net and started whacking away. From the slot, Hathaway scored to knot the game at 3-3 at 18:30 of the frame.
Video: WSH@NYR: Hathaway cleans up rebound in front
"That was an example of getting heavy on a forecheck on a tired [defenseman] and getting pucks to the net," says Dowd. "Hath had a shot, I had two shots and then he scores."
During a Washington power play early in the third, Caps goalie Vitek Vanecek made a key save on Kevin Rooney's shorthanded bid, keeping the game even. Both teams failed to convert on some strong chances early in the third, but Daniel Sprong came through again to break the deadlock.
When Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith hiccupped on an intended cross-ice feed deep in his own end, Sprong was there to pounce at put it home, lifting the Caps back into a 4-3 lead at 4:37 of the third. The goal would prove to be Sprong's third game-winner in Washington's last five games, and his third straight game-winner in a Caps victory.
Just past the midpoint of the period, the Caps got a needed insurance strike when Raffl won a board battle in neutral ice and put a perfect feed on the stick of Nicklas Backstrom, who skated in and spooned a change-up to the top corner for a 5-3 Washington lead at 11:41.
"I was hoping for a fortunate bounce and I actually did not get it," recounts Raffl. "But I stuck with it and I saw Nicky coming through the middle right before that, so it was kind of a 'hope' play, that he would still be on that route and it happened to be there. It was a big goal for us for sure."
Video: WSH@NYR: Backstrom chips shot past Shesterkin
Wilson bagged an empty-netter at 18:34 to account for the 6-3 final. With Monday's loss, the Rangers were mathematically eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"Just another level of disappointment, really," says Rangers coach David Quinn. "We just didn't get enough done this year. We had some great moments, some great stretches, but it just wasn't enough."