NEW YORK - Alex Ovechkin gave the Washington Capitals a jolt simply by returning to the lineup. Matt Bradley delivered the jump they needed with a bloody fight and a big third-period goal.
Ovechkin scored in his first game back from a two-week absence, and Bradley rebounded from a messy brawl to lift the Capitals to a 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.
With Washington down 1-0 and being outplayed by New York in the opening minutes of the game, Bradley took on Aaron Voros in a lengthy bout in which both players doled out haymakers. When it was done, Bradley skated off with blood covering his face and went to get six stitches over his left eye.
"If you're ever going to get into a fight at the time, I think that might've been one of them," Bradley said. "It didn't bother me. I could feel the blood coming, but there is no pain or anything. It's just one of those things that is more annoying than anything. You have to go in and get stitches and you have to miss five minutes.
"It won't be my last one."
The injuries didn't affect him when he knocked the puck away from Wade Redden and raced up ice on a break. Matt Gilroy couldn't deny him from behind, and Bradley beat Henrik Lundqvist with a rising shot to the glove side for his fourth of the season.
"Even if he takes a penalty, he can't allow that shot to be taken. I thought he had an opportunity to stop it," Rangers coach John Tortorella said of the rookie Gilroy. "He needs to realize that he needs to pull out with Redds stuck on the boards there. It's a bump, but he'll learn from it."
Ovechkin missed six games because of an upper body injury, believed to be a strained left shoulder, but came back with a flourish. He netted his NHL-leading 15th goal, in only 15 games, while New York's Sean Avery sat in the penalty box. That erased the Rangers' 1-0 advantage in the first 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."
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau earned his 100th NHL victory.
Marian Gaborik scored both goals for the Rangers and moved into a tie with Ovechkin with his 15th, Gaborik gave New York a 1-0 lead just 1:16 in and then made it 2-2 at 8:23 of the third with a power-play goal against Washington backup goalie Semyon Varlamov.
Gaborik has carried the Rangers' offence this season. After a 2-1 shootout victory at Ottawa on Saturday, New York was trying to win back-to-back games for the first time since mid-October.
"Of course it's frustrating," Gaborik said. "We had a good start, but we took a couple of bad penalties and they scored, We have to try to be disciplined."
The Rangers led 5-4 in shots, but didn't record one for the final 15 minutes, 28 seconds of the first period and 3:52 of the second.
Brooks Laich pushed the Capitals in front 2-1 when he got to a rebound of defenceman Mike Green's shot in the crease and knocked it past Lundqvist with 4:16 remaining in the second. Green also earned the primary assist on Ovechkin's goal.
Brian Pothier scored an empty-netter with 16.7 seconds left.
The Rangers were fortunate to be trailing by only a goal heading into the third as they were outshot 21-11 through 40 minutes. New York finished with 20 shots, tying its season low.
New York netted the equalizer when Gaborik scored from the goal line to Varlamov's right, snapping in a shot from a difficult angle. The Rangers converted on the second of back-to-back penalties.
Washington went 4-2 while Ovechkin was out, then beat New York despite missing top forward Alexander Semin, who was sidelined by a sore right wrist. Varlamov got the start in place of No. 1 goalie Jose Theodore, who was home because of a personal reason.
Varlamov played well against the Rangers after replacing Theodore in the nets during the first round of last season's playoffs and was a major reason why the Capitals erased a 3-1 series deficit and advanced.
Bradley made the difference this time.
"It's amazing," Boudreau said. "He got cut pretty good, came back and was instrumental in us winning. He's got oodles of character."
NOTES: Boudreau is 100-45-19. ... The Capitals recalled C Jay Beagle and G Michal Neuvirth from Hershey (AHL). Beagle replaced Semin in the lineup, and Neuvirth served as Varlamov's backup. In his fourth NHL game, Beagle earned his first point with an assist on Bradley's goal. ... The Rangers are 4-8-1 since their seven-game winning streak ended Oct. 17.