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Caps rally to beat Rangers at MSG

by Dave Lozo
NEW YORK -- For a guy who just scored the game-winning goal for the Washington Capitals against the New York Rangers on Tuesday night, Matt Hendricks was wearing a look of disappointment at his locker afterward.

Not only did the 29-year-old have a goal, but he also had an assist in the 5-3 victory. The problem for Hendricks? He was inches away from a fight with Rangers defenseman Michael Sauer during the first period that would've given him a Gordie Howe Hat Trick. They were both assessed roughing penalties -- Sauer received an extra two minutes -- but neither was slapped with a fighting major.

The obviously downtrodden Hendricks was asked if he was a little saddened by that.

"Yeah, I'm not … no comment on that," said the tight-lipped Hendricks before conceding, "you can see it on my face though, huh?"

It was easily the most upsetting part of a victory that saw the Caps rally from down one goal on three occasions to win their fifth in a row and seventh in their last eight games. Forward Brooks Laich scored twice, including the empty-netter with 5.6 seconds remaining, to help the Caps improve to a League-best 11-4-0.

Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said despite trailing the Rangers for most of the game, he never felt worried about his team's chances.

"I never thought that we were behind. We were behind, but I thought we played pretty good in the first period," Boudreau said. "We got a bad break on the second goal after killing off a 5-on-3 pretty well. Sometimes in a game you feel like you're always in it. Sometimes a team is beating you 2-1 or 1-0 and you think there's no way we're going to come back.

"But there was a good vibe on the bench tonight, so it was good."

Rangers forward Brian Boyle scored his first of two goals just 4:02 into the game. He corralled a slap pass from defenseman Dan Girardi and flipped a backhand over the catching glove of Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who settled down after some jitters during the first two periods to improve to 9-3-0 this season.

Laich responded a little less than five minutes later by redirecting a gorgeous pass from Alexander Semin while the Caps were on a 4-on-3 power play. Laich parked himself in front of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and got his stick on Semin's hard pass to even the score.

Afterward, Laich heaped all the credit on Semin for the goal.

"Any donkey can go to the front of the net and stand there with his stick on the ice," the self-deprecating Laich said. "Having those guys make you look pretty good."

But Boyle, who entered this season with 12 goals in 107 games, scored his seventh of the year to put the Rangers ahead 2-1 with 7:04 left in the first period.

The Capitals had just one more second of a 5-on-3 to kill and won a defensive-zone faceoff. But defenseman Karl Alzner whiffed on the clearing attempt. The puck slid right onto the tape of Boyle, who beat an off-guard Neuvirth to the glove side.
"He has put his work in during the summer," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "Honestly, when camp started, he was on the outside looking in. He has taken it upon himself to improve himself in all areas and he is certainly paying dividends for us here."

At the start of the second period, two of the most unlikely goal scorers not only found the back of the net, but they did so within 41 seconds of each other.

Capitals defenseman John Erskine, who entered with 8 goals in 338 career games, beat Lundqvist to the stick side from the top of the left circle to tie the score at 2-2. It ended a 31-game stretch without a goal for the 30-year-old.

Things got crazier less than a minute later when Rangers forward Derek Boogaard capitalized on a turnover by the Caps' Tyler Sloan. The 6-foot-7, 265-pound Boogaard lumbered down the left wing all alone and launched a shot that beat Neuvirth to the stick side to put the Rangers ahead 3-2.

It was Boogaard's first goal since his rookie season of 2005-06. He hadn't scored in 234 games, just 21 short of the NHL record for most games between goals held by former New Jersey Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko.

Boudreau offered his candid thoughts on the rarity of the goals by Erskine and Boogaard.

"That should be in the Guinness Book of World Records right there," Boudreau said. "That'll never happen again in the same week, never mind the same shift."

Capitals forward Mike Knuble entered the game with what seemed to him like a scoring slump for the ages. But he banged home a pass from Alexander Ovechkin, who had two assists, to snap his 13-game goalless drought and tie the score at 3-3 at 9:18 of the second period.

It looked like Knuble might never score again after Lundqvist made a flurry of great saves on him during the first period, but his persistence paid off in the form of his first goal since opening night.

"Yeah, finally he scored a goal," Ovechkin said. "He had so many chances in the first period that he probably had five or six rebounds and he could not score. It's good for him."

But Knuble isn't ready to say the monkey is off his back after just one goal.

"I have close to 50 shots on the season and 2 goals, it's not going to stay that way," Knuble said. "Sometimes you need the wide-open net just to get it going again. It's frustrating but you're not out of the woods yet just because you get one. It doesn't mean a thing, really. As long as you're working for the chances, they'll come."

The loss dropped the Rangers to 2-5-1 at home, a problem that has lingered with the club after last season's 18-17-6 mark at MSG. Girardi was at a loss to explain the woes.

"I don't think we really have an answer," he said. "That is the hard part for us. We go out and work hard and we have great fans behind us, but I don't know."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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