WASHINGTON - For the first time all season, the Rangers are leading the Metropolitan Division.
With a 3-1 defeat of the Capitals Wednesday night, sealed by Martin St. Louis' insurance goal at 17:33 of the third period in a rugged, physical game, the Rangers won their fourth straight road game and climbed to 91 points, one ahead of the Islanders.
The Rangers are 12-1-2 in their last 15 games.
Chris Kreider intercepted a pass in mid-ice and sped toward Braden Holtby, with St. Louis on his left. Kreider's pass was slammed in by St. Louis, who was pointless in seven games.
With about nine minutes left, after a horrendous turnover by Mats Zuccarello, Cam Talbot stopped Alex Ovechkin point blank with his left pad, then slid to his left to stop another shot, and Dan Boyle blocked another try.
Talbot made 28 saves, 15 in the third period, and has allowed only five goals in five games.
With the Capitals setting up during a five-on-three for 1:18 at the start of the second period, several shots went wide or were blocked. Talbot then robbed Niklas Backstrom with a spectacular glove save at the left post. Dominic Moore came out of the box for a breakaway on Holtby, but his backhand try was denied, as well as a follow from a sharp angle.
At 7:27, Girardi leveled Jay Beagle coming up the boards with a thunderous shoulder check. Glencross retaliated, Tanner Glass responded, and it ended with a second man-advantage for the Blueshirts, who struggled to get looks.
After Ovechkin elbowed J.T. Miller, standing still, in the face at 9:44, the Rangers got a third power play. They managed a few shots but couldn't extend the 2-1 lead.
The Capitals, on average the heaviest team in the league, came out like wrecking balls, and fierce forechecking kept play in the Blueshirts' defensive zone for much of the first five minutes. But the Rangers regrouped, and Kevin Hayes, at the left post, just missed a tip-in of Girardi's shot from the right point at 5:40.
Carl Hagelin scored his first goal in nine games at 8:20, after he started the rush down the right and went to the net to shovel a rebound of Hayes' shot past Holtby for a 1-0 lead.
After an interference penalty on Boyle in front, Marc Staal blocked Ovechkin's shot, but the Russian star answered on the power play with his league-leading 45th goal. Ovechkin's wide-open blast from near the top of the left circle struck the stick of a diving Jesper Fast and eluded Talbot at 11:43.
The chippiness intensified. Troy Brouwer was sent off for a slash, but the Rangers, who were 3-for-32 on the power play coming into the evening, couldn't deliver. J.T. Miller did, however, when Hayes found him cutting through the circle, and his shot bounced off Holtby and in at 16:34.
The Caps, credited with 20 hits, kept hounding the Rangers, particularly Tom Wilson, who had five, and Dominic Moore retaliated, dumping Wilson, and was whistled at 19:05. Forty-one seconds later, in a battle in the corner of the Rangers zone, Ryan McDonagh was banished for high-sticking, giving the Capitals the five-on-three that carried into the second period.