WASHINGTON - The Capitals finished checks, dived to block shots and clamped down defensively when they got the lead. Against the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Capitals improved their play and erased lingering murmurs that they were underachievers.
Alexander Semin scored twice, Troy Brouwer had the tiebreaking goal midway through the second period, and Washington halted the New York Rangers' five-game winning streak with a 4-1 victory on Wednesday night.
"All through the lineup, guys were just playing tough," Brouwer said. "Not letting guys get free passes, even in front of our net, playing hard on the cycle, stuff like that. When you play tough, when you play hard, it makes it tough for the other team to create anything."
That was the script that gave Washington the lead for good, when Brouwer atoned for misfiring at an empty net late in the first period on a man advantage.
With the game tied 1-1, Brouwer got tangled with Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh in front of the New York net. Brouwer not only screened goalie Martin Biron but redirected John Carlson's drive from the left point for his 10th goal of the season at 10:24.
"I'm put out on the power play to score goals, do a good job in front of the net," Brouwer said of his earlier miss. "For me, that's an unacceptable play. It's got to be in the back of the net."
Marcus Johansson also scored for the Capitals, who snapped a two-game skid. Alex Ovechkin had two assists.
Brandon Dubinsky scored for the Rangers, 7-3 in their last 10 games. Marian Gaborik, tied for the NHL lead with 22 goals, had his run of five straight games with a goal stopped.
The Rangers dropped one point behind Boston in the Eastern Conference race.
"Turnovers, not against their third or fourth lines, but against their top line ??? it killed us," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "That's what's frustrating. I thought we beat ourselves a little bit there in those situations. They're an opportunistic team (and) we didn't defend."
Turnovers led to Semin's two goals, which turned a one-goal Washington lead into a comfortable margin.
"He's a sniper and he can score, but he played the right way," Capitals coach Dale Hunter said. "He was back-checking and he created opportunities because of defence. That whole line, that's what we needed from them."
Tomas Vokoun, making his first start in six games, made 31 saves for the victory. Fifteen of those stops came in the third period, and Washington killed five New York power plays.
"We played with a lot of emotion, and guys battled hard, especially on penalty kill and all around," Vokoun said. "We executed the game plan we had. We wanted to be physical and play simple hockey. We did that for the most part. When we do that, we are usually successful."
Johansson gave Washington a 1-0 lead 8:18 in, sweeping the rebound of Jeff Halpern's right-side shot past Biron for his seventh of the season.
The Rangers used a fortuitous bounce to tie it at 17:16 of the first period. After New York's Ryan Callahan dived to block Carlson's shot, the puck squirted up the ice ??? setting up Dubinsky to beat Vokoun on a 2-on-1 break.
About 2 1/2 minutes after Brouwer's redirect put the Capitals ahead, Ovechkin's hard check in the neutral zone knocked the puck loose from Brad Richards. Nicklas Backstrom got to it, and his shovel pass sprung Semin, who got a step on a defender and converted a back-hander for a 3-1 Capitals lead.
Callahan appeared to cut the Washington lead to a goal on a power play with 7:59 remaining in the game, but the goal was disallowed after a video review revealed that he kicked the puck into the net.
Semin's second of the night made it 4-1 with 2:35 left.
Notes: Ovechkin has points in four straight games. ... C Jay Beagle returned to the Washington lineup after missing 31 games. He sustained a concussion in a fight with Pittsburgh's Arron Asham on Oct. 13. ... Gaborik, who had seven goals and an assist in his previous five games, is one assist away from 300 in the NHL. ... The Capitals have killed all 21 penalties the past seven home games. ... With an assist on Semin's second goal, D Karl Alzner tied a career high with 10.