WASHINGTON -- The Rangers have not shied away from the fact that this has been a challenging week for their group, and nothing about Sunday's game did anything to ease the emotions, not with both the tempers and the score running high. But finishing off a weekend divisional back-to-back in the home of the defending champions, the Rangers never stepped back an inch.
Down by a pair on two separate occasions in the game, the Rangers punched and clawed their way back each time, then had a litany of looks to win it in overtime before falling, 6-5, to the Washington Capitals in a Sunday afternoon game that had no shortage of excitement and sandpaper.
Evgeny Kuznetsov dove onto a loose puck on the goal line with 39.6 seconds remaining in the 3-on-3, but not before the Rangers scored four times in the last 21:42 of regulation to wipe out deficits of 3-1 and 5-3, wresting a point out of Washington and finishing a taxing weekend earning three points out of four.
"I think we've known the whole year we've been a team that hasn't given up at all," Brady Skjei said. "Obviously it showed today."
Video: NYR@WSH: Skjei nets second goal to tie game late
Skjei scored three times over the weekend, twice on Sunday, including the goal with 30.3 seconds on the clock and six Rangers skaters on the ice that leveled the score at 5 apiece. The goal touched off an eruption from the sizable contingent of Blue-clad Ranger fans in the stands, and another celebration just like it on the visitors' bench.
"Listen, it's been an emotional 48, 72 hours for everybody," said David Quinn. "That felt really good, that goal."
Jimmy Vesey and Vlad Namestnikov got the Rangers' other third-period markers, while Chris Kreider scored for the second straight day, this time 21 seconds into the game. And his linemate Mika Zibanejad climbed to a point-per-game pace for the season, assisting on two goals to make it 62 points in 62 games.
Video: NYR@WSH: Kreider stuffs Vesey's feed into the twine
It was the fourth time in the last six games the Rangers have scored at least five goals, but what stood out just as much as the scoring was the fact that this game took on an edge that made it feel like the division rivalry that it is. And among the positives the Rangers will take from this game is the way in which they stuck up for one another throughout - and for themselves, as in the case of Ryan Strome, who happened to take umbrage with having his head pushed into the ice by Matt Niskanen in the third period and popped up swinging.
"There's an awful lot of good to take out of tonight. Especially that we had some unbelievable chances in the overtime, the fact that we fought back from two-goal deficits twice, the way we competed and battled," Quinn said. "I'm not just talking about the fighting, but just the way we weren't pushed around physically or mentally. These are the things you're going to have to do moving forward to have success."
"Every time we play this team there's a little nastiness to it just because of the teams' history," said Skjei. "That's hockey, that's how it goes - both teams had guys sticking up for each other. It was a good battle by both teams."
Henrik Lundqvist finished with 29 saves, but after the Rangers' threesome was caught out for a long shift when Kuznetsov scored in OT, he will have to wait to break his tie with Mike Richter for most wins against the Caps by a Rangers goaltender (21) - perhaps when these teams pick up their battle where they left off when Washington pays a visit to Madison Square Garden next Sunday. That will come at the end of a three-game homestand that gets going on Wednesday against the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.
Lundqvist's counterpart, Pheonix Copley, stopped 26 Ranger shots, and his team got a pair of goals from Nicklas Backstrom, and one each from Michal Kempny, Tom Wilson, Nic Dowd and Kuznetsov. In all, 25 players made the scoresheet in the game.
Video: NYR@WSH: Vesey scores with knuckler from blue line
Part of what the Rangers had to overcome was not one but two separate instances of quick strikes from the Capitals. Kreider and Vesey combined to hand the Rangers a dream start, when Vesey, playing his off wing, sent a sharp pass on his backhand out of the right corner across the goalmouth and onto Kreider's tape for a tap-in at 21 seconds - the fastest goal the Rangers have scored this season, and Kreider's 26th of the year, matching Zibanejad atop the team leaderboard.
But near the final minute of a solid first period for the Rangers, Backstrom and Kempny found open ice in the middle and scored 21 seconds apart, Backstrom's goal coming on a beautiful slap-pass set-up from John Carlson.
"It was a game where it was definitely a test mentally," said Lundqvist. "Being down after that first period, that was a tough result for us. But we kept fighting."
Skjei got one back late in the second, walking a tightrope on the blue line and turning to fling one that got through traffic from Connor Brickley and Jesper Fast, then through Copley. And Vesey tried matching Kreider's feat by slapping one in from the blue line just 21 seconds after second intermission - giving Vesey a goal and an assist in each game on the weekend, and four goals in his last eight games.
Video: NYR@WSH: Skjei scores seeing-eye goal from blue line
Again, though, Washington answered in rapid succession, this time with goals 36 seconds apart from Dowd finding a carom to the front of the net and Backstrom on a perfectly placed wrist shot after the Rangers fumbled a puck trying to exit the zone.
"You can feel sorry for yourself in a hurry, but if you continue to feel sorry for yourself the strike won't be two, it'll be four," Quinn said. "That's kind of what we talked about and tried to focus on, and our guys did a good job of not really letting it snowball."
It allowed Namestnikov to bring them back within striking distance with his skate blade, which got a piece of Neal Pionk's wrist shot and trimmed the deficit to one at 6:01 of the third - Pionk's fifth assist in three games against the Caps this season. It stayed that way until Kevin Shattenkirk served one up for Skjei to blast from the right point, getting a bounce off of new Capital and former Ranger Carl Hagelin on its way past Copley.
Video: NYR@WSH: Namestnikov redirects Pionk's feed for PPG
That secured the Rangers their point, and it put a cap on a thrilling third period that included five goals and 26 minutes in penalties, including Strome's tussle with Niskanen and Brickley going back at Brooks Orpik after being crosschecked from behind into the wall.
"It's only 200 by 85 out there. There's not a lot of space, and there's a lot of confrontation," Quinn said. "If you're playing the right way you're going to piss people off. That's what gonna happen.
"I've said this a lot: I don't want to be the Broad Street Bullies, but you better play with an edge in this game if you're going to have success. And we played with a little bit of an edge today."