Daniel Sprong’s tiebreaking goal early in the third period propelled the Washington Capitals to a 6-3 victory over the fading New York Rangers, who were knocked out of playoff contention Monday night.
Nic Dowd, Conor Sheary, Garnet Hathaway, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson also scored for the Capitals as they snapped a two-game skid. Vitek Vanecek made 23 saves to earn the 19th win of his rookie season.
“It’s a gutsy win,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson said after returning from a two-game absence. “These are important points, important games for us as a team. I think there were a lot of guys battling extra hard. It wasn’t the easiest of games the way it played out. I liked the way we stuck with it, overcame some adversity throughout different points of the game.”
Mika Zibanejad scored twice and Kaapo Kakko had a goal for New York, which dropped its third consecutive game. Artemi Panarin added two assists and Igor Shesterkin stopped 34 shots, but the young Rangers were eliminated from the postseason picture when Boston beat New Jersey.
“Just another level of disappointment,” coach David Quinn said. “Just didn’t get enough done this year. Had some great moments, some great stretches, but just wasn’t enough.”
Alex Ovechkin returned to the lineup after missing four games with a lower-body injury but went to the locker room after playing 39 seconds in the first period and did not return. Washington’s captain remains one goal from tying Marcel Dionne for fifth on the NHL’s career list.
Sprong put the Capitals ahead 4-3 at 4:37 of the third. Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith misplayed a puck that set up Sprong for his 12th goal of the season.
“He is trying to attack the game with speed. He is a fast player and I think the goals are a result of that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “When he is moving, he is dangerous. … The last five or six games, he has played well, he has stood out.”
Backstrom provided insurance when he flipped the puck over Shesterkin’s glove at 11:41 to make it 5-3.
Hathaway knotted the game at 3 with his sixth of the season at 18:30 of the second. Dowd stripped the puck from 21-year-old defenseman K’Andre Miller prior to a scramble in front that Hathaway eventually capitalized on.
“I thought it was a good forecheck by us and that’s something we take a lot of pride in,” Hathaway said. “It’s a line goal for sure — they don’t have to be pretty.”
New York erased a 2-0 deficit with three consecutive goals.
Zibanejad notched his second of the game on the power play at 2:30 of the second. Ryan Strome found the Swedish center all alone in the slot after receiving a cross-ice pass from Panarin.
Kakko gave New York a 3-2 advantage at 4:35 with a skilled forehand-backhand maneuver. Alexis Lafreniere fooled Washington defenseman Zdeno Chara with a deke to his backhand to set up Kaako.
Zibanejad trimmed the Rangers’ first-period deficit to one goal with his 21st of the season at 18:00. Panarin received a pass outside the blue line, then gracefully spun into the offensive zone and found a streaking Zibanejad. The goal snapped a Rangers scoring drought of 144:11 that included back-to-back shutout losses against the New York Islanders.
The Capitals gained a two-goal advantage with first-period goals from Dowd and Sheary just 92 seconds apart.
Dowd opened the scoring when his wrist shot zipped through the legs of Shesterkin at 14:12.
Washington doubled its advantage when a puck eluded several Rangers skaters and found its way to Sheary’s stick before a turnaround wrist shot. Michael Raffl and Wilson assisted.
Panarin did not return after a second-period quarrel that led to a double-minor penalty and 10-minute misconduct for Wilson. The bruising forward added an empty-net goal late in the third.
“I figure you should have some more respect for the game and for the players,” Zibanejad said of Wilson’s play. “I don’t honestly know where to start, it’s just horrible. Zero respect. I don’t know why I’m surprised, but yeah, just horrible.”
Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov and goaltender Ilya Samsonov did not dress for disciplinary reasons after being late to a team function. … F T.J. Oshie missed the game while attending to a personal family matter. … D Justin Schultz unexpectedly did not participate in warmups due to a lower-body injury. As a result, Washington was only able to dress 17 skaters (11 forwards, six defensemen) instead of the permitted 18.
The Rangers are the only NHL team that has five players with at least 44 points (no other team has more than three). New York is one of two clubs with three players who have 20 or more goals (Pittsburgh is the other).
The Rangers are in the midst of a 17-game stretch in which they only play in the New York metropolitan area (11 games at MSG, four at Nassau Coliseum and two at Prudential Center in New Jersey). It began April 6 and will end Thursday when the Rangers visit Boston.
The teams conclude their eight-game season series Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.