A four-goal outburst in the third period was not enough for the New York Rangers, whose furious comeback attempt fell short on Sunday afternoon in the nation’s capital in a 5-4 loss to the Washington Capitals.
The Rangers (15-14-4), who have now lost two straight, trailed by scores of 4-0 and 5-2 in the third period before two goals from rookie Alexis Lafreniere and Chris Kreider in the game’s final eight minutes made it a one-goal game with 3:52 to play.
The Capitals scored three of their goals in a 4:24 spurt during the second period, two of them coming from Tom Wilson and another provided by Alexander Ovechkin to put the Rangers in a hole.
It was an unceremonious return behind the bench for Rangers head coach David Quinn, who had been sidelined due to COVID-19.
His side was a mere inches from striking first when the red-hot Mika Zibanejad, who had 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) over his last six games, nearly put the Rangers ahead in the first period on more of a trick shot than anything.
On a loose puck behind the net and with goaltender Ilya Samsonov out of position, Zibanejad bee-lined a backhander off the face of Capitals forward TJ Oshie, who was in front of the crease of the empty net. It nearly rolled in — halfway over the goal line — but it was whacked away by Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov.
The Rangers couldn’t muster much pressure despite Zibanejad’s fluke chance. They were held without a shot for nearly eight minutes between the first and second period, getting their first of the second frame with 10:01 remaining.
Just 44 seconds after the Rangers’ first shot, the Capitals scored the game’s first goal when Tom Wilson poked a backhander over Keith Kinkaid after making an initial save on a Jakub Vrana breakaway.
It was Wilson’s first goal in nearly a month after he was suspended seven games for an illegal hit on Boston Bruins defenseman, Brandon Carlo.
Alex Ovechkin doubled the Capitals’ lead 1:46 after Wilson’s opener when he ripped a no-look wrist shot just a stride from Kinkaid’s right goal line — finding twine from an incredibly tough angle for his 10th goal in his last nine games.
Less than three minutes later, Wilson had his second goal when he batted home a rebound from Nicklas Backstrom’s shot out of mid-air, just below the crossbar that would have made it a high-stick.
The rout was on 5:10 into the third period when former-Ranger Carl Hagelin sent a pinpoint pass from behind the net to an open Evgeni Kuznetsov right in front of Kinkaid for an easy one-timer to make it 4-0. It appeared to be a backbreaking goal for the Rangers, who misfired on multiple odd-man rushes earlier in the third.
But Colin Blackwell provided the Rangers with some life 1:34 after Kuznetsov’s goal with a driving backhander he was able to stuff in off Samsonov — a consolation birthday gift for the now 28-year-old. He’d nab a second just three minutes later to pull the Rangers within two.
Oshie and the Capitals punched back two minutes later 11:46 into the period in what proved to be the game-winner as Lafreniere picked up his fifth of the season on a rebound with 7:42 to go before Kreider savvily redirected a power-play chance just minutes later.