WASHINGTON -- It was right about the midpoint of the game on Friday night when Henrik Lundqvist made stopping a penalty shot look like one of the easier things in the world to do. His team was trailing by two goals and badly needed a stop; he supplied it, and the lift it gave his team was palpable.
David Quinn spoke afterward of how his goaltender had kept his team in a game during that middle frame. "Unfortunately," the Head Coach said, "we weren't able to do anything with it."
On a night when Lundqvist held Washington's second-period push at bay and gave his team a chance to mount a rally, ultimately there was just too much T.J. Oshie, too much John Carlson, and too many chances for them to combine on power plays as the Blueshirts went down to a 5-2 defeat to the Capitals on Friday night.
Lundqvist made 29 saves on the night, 15 of them during a second period that included the penalty shot on which Lundqvist seemed to know what Jakub Vrana wanted to do. More than two weeks into the season, it was only Lundqvist's third start of the year - he has had roughly a week in between each of them. But after a tough bounce - the Rangers had more than a few of those over the past two days - put the Rangers behind just over a minute in, Lundqvist said he only felt more and more sharp as this game progressed.
"There were a few opportunities in the second period there, breakaways, 2-on-1s, and I felt like as the game went on I felt better and better," he said. "It's been a while since I've played, but no excuses. I did feel better and better as the game went on."
Pavel Buchnevich scored his first goal of the season and Artemi Panarin his third, each with an assist from Mika Zibanejad, who reached double digits in points in the Rangers' fifth game of the year. Chris Kreider also had a helper, on a sweet setup for Panarin's goal, and so did Jacob Trouba, who also fired eight pucks on goal, a new career high, during his 28:22 of ice.
Oshie, though, scored twice for Washington, both on power plays, while Carlson - the defenseman who entered the game third in the NHL in scoring -- had three assists for his sixth multipoint game out of nine this season. Oshie's first goal, 2:24 in, was a stroke of luck off a Ranger skate after Lundqvist had stoned him three straight times from the doorstep. His second goal was the dagger, a power-play insurance marker midway through the third.
Michal Kempny, playing his first game in seven months after spring surgery on a torn hamstring, and Nic Dowd also scored for the Caps, who got 26 saves from Braden Holtby.
The Rangers, completing their first back-to-back set of 2019-20, allowed the first goal for the first time this season despite playing one of their better first periods, in which they had nine of the game's first 11 shots.
"I genuinely think we're getting better every single game," said Kreider, who had been moved up, and flipped over to right wing, to play on the top line for this game. "We have talked about how maybe we weren't playing physical enough. That definitely wasn't the case tonight.
"We were on our toes, playing in their zone a lot of the game. Every shift I felt like we were half a second here or there away from popping one in. I think that's the tale of the entire game. We're so close."
To Quinn, there may be such a thing as being too much on your toes. "We were forcing things all over the rink tonight," he said, adding: "You have to play defense. And it's frustrating because I thought we were making some strides in that area."
If Quinn's frustration was building in the second period, it looked for all the world like Lundqvist had provided a turning point about midway through. With Vrana moving in on his penalty shot with a chance to break the game open, Lundqvist, who never makes the first move, simply outwaited him. When Vrana shot from the hashmarks, Lundqvist scarcely had to move to put his left pad to it.
"I just tried to be patient," said Lundqvist, who has now saved 13 of 22 penalty shots in his career. "I felt like I read the shot pretty good."
It wasn't even a minute after that, during the next TV timeout, that Quinn gathered his entire team at the bench for an impassioned talk, and 3:04 before the period was done came Panarin's goal, in which he worked a left-circle give-and-go with Kreider that had Dmitry Orlov caught in his headlights - the Caps defenseman couldn't choose which player to defend, and in the end defended neither.
"We had I think five or six looks exactly like that," Kreider said.
The goal was Panarin's third in five games as a Ranger, and it set up a 3-2 game entering the third, second straight night the Rangers found themselves locked in a one-goal game in the final period. This time, Oshie put his power-play redirection of Carlson's blast just inside Lundqvist's left post at 10:18 of the third, and Garnet Hathaway hit an empty net in the final half-minute to seal it.
Once the Rangers departed Washington they had less than 40 hours until they're back on the ice, in a Sunday Garden matinee against the Vancouver Canucks. The Rangers are finally into the part of their schedule where they play regular games - in this case, three in four days, and five in eight - and as Quinn and others have said, "That's how you get better."
Despite some missteps, "We found a way to be in the game," Lundqvist said. "I thought we battled really hard. And that's something to take away from this game."