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POSTGAME NOTEBOOK: Caps 4, Rangers 3 (OT)

Niskanen nets another GWG, Ovechkin surprises Lundqvist and ties Ciccarelli, Carlson and Pionk stand out, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Wednesday Week - The Caps racked up their third win of the season on Wednesday, downing the New York Rangers by a 4-3 count on Matt Niskanen's goal at 2:18 of overtime. The win is the Caps' third of the season, and all three have come on consecutive Wednesdays, and all three have been recorded on home ice.

Facing a youthful New York team that played at home the night before, the Caps did a good job of forechecking the Blueshirts consistently, particularly late in the game when the Rangers' legs were at their heaviest. It was a welcome departure for the Capitals after a Saturday night loss against the Maple Leafs in which they let the game slip from their grasp in the latter stages.

"We talked about that," says Caps defenseman John Carlson. "Against Toronto, we thought we had a good first two periods and let them kind of have their way to start [the third] and we ended up on the wrong side of it."

Against the Leafs, the Caps allowed a 2-1 lead to slip away late in the second period in what became a 4-2 loss. That loss became a talking point for Caps coach Todd Reirden going into Wednesday's game against New York.

Washington took a 3-2 lead into the third, and it forced the Rangers to play in their own end for most of the first half of that final frame. But an offensive-zone holding call on Caps winger Nathan Walker led to Chris Kreider's tying goal on the ensuing power play, and the Caps needed Niskanen's overtime goal to win it.

"Today, I liked our response," says Carlson. "Todd challenged us to make sure we fixed that. It didn't turn out that way, but I think we were in the right frame of mind and did the right things to be successful at that time of the game."

Get The Knack - Over his years in the NHL, Niskanen has shown a proclivity for scoring game-winning goals. His Wednesday's night goal was the 57th of his NHL career, and it was his 17th game-winner, and his second overtime game-winner.

Here's a Thursday throwback for you, from a Postgame Notebook after a Dec. 8, 2017 game in which he netted his most recent game-winner, also against the Rangers at Capital One Arena:

Niskanen's first goal of the season was a big one, and it was the 50th goal of his NHL career coming in the 750th game of his career in the league. And Niskanen has shown a knack for game-winning goals over the course of his career, and in particular, his recent career.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, only two of the 21 goals Niskanen scored over the first five seasons of his NHL career were game-winners, but since then, a whopping total of 14 of 29 (48.3%) of his goals have been game-winners. Since 2012-13, Niskanen's percentage of game-winners is highest among all NHL players who have scored at least 25 goals over that span. No other player in that group has scored game-winners on even a third of his goals over the last six seasons.

Twenty-Four Frames - Both Caps winger Alex Ovechkin and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist entered the NHL as rookies in 2005-06, and both are certain to become Hockey Hall of Famers shortly after the conclusion of their respective playing careers. Over the years, they've faced one another many times, so it shouldn't surprise anyone to learn that Ovechkin has scored more goals against Lundqvist than he has against any other NHL goaltender.

Ovechkin netted a pair of power-play goals in Wednesday's win over the Rangers, running his total of career goals against Lundqvist to 24, one more than he has scored against Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights.

Ovechkin's first power-play goal on Wednesday was a beauty. Brett Connolly dug the puck out of the corner and fired a backhand pass up high, where Carlson expertly flagged it down by extending and reaching with his backhand to keep the puck in the zone. He quickly short-hopped a saucer pass to Ovechkin, who was stationed in his left circle office. Incredibly, Ovechkin opted to one-time the feed right off the short hop, rather than settle and shoot. The shot surprised Lundqvist -- as well as many of the rest of us -- and gave the Caps a 2-1 lead early in the second.

"I didn't expect him to shoot at all," emphasized Lundqvist. "And then he hit it hard. So when I realized he shot it, it was just hard to recover. But obviously, I should know with that guy he can shoot from anywhere. But it didn't look like he was going to shoot it. He was going to receive the pass, and then, boom! He shot it and before you know it, it's coming at you and I wasn't able to recover. So I learned my lesson there. I've played so many times against him I should know to be ready at all times. But he got me that time."

Playing for the second time in as many nights, Lundqvist was sharp. He allowed just one five-on-five goal in the game and was reached for more than two goals for the first time in six starts this season. With 433 career wins, Lundqvist is now just four wins shy of tying Jacques Plante for seventh on the league's all-time wins list.

Movin' On Up - With two power-play goals on Wednesday, Ovechkin now has 232 for his NHL career, tied with former Caps winger and Hockey Hall of Famer Dino Ciccarelli for ninth place on the NHL's all-time list. Dave Andreychuk is the all-time leader in the category with 274 power-play goals.

I'm Living On A Blueline - Both the Caps and the Rangers benefited from standpoint performances from defensemen in Wednesday's game. Carlson had a goal and three points for the Caps, and Rangers blueliner Neal Pionk had a strong showing as well, picking up assists on all three New York goals.

Carlson's hot start continued as he increased his point total to nine (three goals, six assists) on the season. After leading all NHL defensemen with 68 points last season, Carlson ranks second only to Toronto's Morgan Rielly in the early going of 2018-19. Carlson is also averaging 26 minutes per night in ice time, tops among all Washington skaters and fifth among the league's blueliners.

"John made huge strides last year and he has made huge strides the last four years in terms of just overall play and what he adds to our team," says Reirden. "I think his ability to shoot the puck back there on the power play opens up a lot of different things for others. I just thought he made some real high-end plays tonight. I thought it was probably one of his more complete games of the year for sure in terms of overall two-way play."

As a rookie with the Rangers last season, Pionk put up a respectable total of 14 points (one goal, 13 assists) despite playing in only 28 games. He skated 22:23 a night with New York in 2017-18, and many saw him as a guy who would play in the Rangers' top four in the immediate future.

But three games into this season, Pionk was parked for a pair of games as a healthy scratch. He returned to the lineup in a big way on Wednesday, assisting on all three New York goals and blocking four shots while logging 22:50 to lead all Blueshirts in ice time.

"Neal played outstanding," says Rangers coach David Quinn. "He was probably our best player. He certainly had a lot of energy, he did a great job on our power play and a great job on our first goal. Like I've said before, he's a big piece of what we've got moving forward."

Down On The Farm - After dropping five straight games to start the 2018-19 season, the AHL Hershey Bears finally got into the win column on Wednesday. Hershey went on the road to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and the Bears handed the Baby Pens their first setback of the season, 3-2. The victory also ended a string of eight straight Hershey losses at the hands of the Baby Pens.

Axel Jonsson-Fjallby got the Bears started with his first AHL goal at 1:40 of the first period, with a single assist from Tyler Lewington.

Hershey added to its lead in the final minute of the second period when Liam O'Brien scored his third goal of the season with help from Connor Hobbs, enabling the Bears to take a 2-0 lead into the final frame.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton struck twice in the first five minutes of the third to even the game at 2-2, but Jayson Megna netted what would prove to be the game-winner for Hershey at 6:19, Max Kammerer and Logan Pyett assisting.

Vitek Vanecek stopped 40 of the 42 shots he faced to record the victory in the Hershey nets, and he stopped all 31 shots he saw in the game's first 40 minutes.

The Bears are back in action on Friday in Charlotte when they face the Checkers.

By The Numbers - Carlson led the Caps with 26:02 in ice time … Ovechkin led the Caps with six shots on net and a dozen shot attempts … Niskanen and Ovechkin each had three hits to lead the Caps … Michal Kempny blocked two shots to lead the Caps … Nicklas Backstrom won 14 of 20 face-offs (70%) and Lars Eller won eight of 12 (67%).

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