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The Rangers looked like a team that was prepared to take on the highest-scoring squad in their division.
With an uphill battle of a schedule staring them in the face, the Rangers kicked off the climb with a 4-2 statement victory over the mighty Capitals at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.
It’s not lost on the Rangers that the rest of February is going to serve as a litmus test for a playoff berth in the loaded East. But head coach David Quinn wants his team to focus on one game at a time, and the Rangers went out for this one and played like the Capitals were the only team on their mind.
Behind two goals from Ryan Strome, the Rangers earned their first back-to-back wins of the season by matching Washington’s heaviness along the boards and playing a strong 200-foot game for the full 60 minutes.
Pavel Buchnevich’s empty-netter proved to be the insurance tally and sealed the win.
Ryan Strome (10) celebrates with Artemi Panarin (left) and Kaapo Kakko after scoring the go-ahead goal in the Rangers’ 4-2 win over the Capitals.Getty Images
Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin tracked the puck well for a majority of the night, beginning with a stop on a partial breakaway from Alex Ovechkin to get the game started. The rookie netminder, who finished with 31 saves, only gave up goals to Carl Hagelin, on a bouncing puck at 18:57 of the second, and to Ovechkin, on a snipe halfway through the third that made it a 3-2 game.
Ovechkin’s 709th career goal gave him sole possession of seventh place on the NHL’s all-time goals list.
Washington poured on the pressure after making it a one-goal game in both the second and third periods. Drawing a slashing penalty on Brett Howden with 10 seconds left in the middle frame, the Capitals had the man-advantage to start the third.
But the Rangers extended their streak of locked-down penalty killing, stifling all four Capitals power plays to bring the unit to a perfect 13-for-13 over the past three games.
The Rangers had one of their most complete first periods of the season, emerging with a 1-0 lead. Strome deflected an Adam Fox shot in at 1:41 and the Rangers managed to protect it, while keeping up the pressure and stringing together opportunity after opportunity.
Anthony Bitetto scored his first goal since November 2017 after attacking the net and finishing with a backhanded shot at 9:15 of the second to put the Rangers up 2-0. Kevin Rooney earned the assist on the play, extending his point streak to three games.