NEW YORK -- In his third National Hockey League season, Derek Stepan
has evolved into a player whom John Tortorella depends on in all situations.
On Wednesday night, the center proved his coach's faith is well-founded.
Stepan's goal six minutes into the third period powered the New York Rangers
to a 4-3 win over the Washington Capitals
in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
The series is even at two games apiece. Game 5 is Friday night at the Verizon Center in Washington.
The game-winning goal was Stepan's second in as many games. Stepan and linemates Carl Hagelin
and Ryan Callahan were able to use their pressure to keep the puck in the offensive zone. The line played a personal game of tic-tac-toe, ending with Hagelin slipping a pass behind defenseman Jack Hillen and an out-of-position goalie Braden Holtby
to a wide open Stepan, who had an empty net to take aim at.
"(He) is a guy that plays 20 to 23 minutes a game in all situations," Tortorella said of Stepan, who skated 25 shifts spanning 20:43 of ice time. "Because of that intangible he has, he has given us some really big minutes (to allow) us to crawl into the series with these two games."
Each team has won the games on its home ice.
"So far we're just taking care of business at home," New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
said. "We still need to do whatever we can to get the next one."
Dan Giradi's power-play goal 59 seconds into the third period broke a 2-2 tie, and Stepan's goal gave put the Rangers in front 4-2.
Mathieu Perreault cut Washington's deficit to 4-3 at 7:31 of the third period with his second goal of the game, but the Capitals couldn't get the equalizer.
Lundqvist made 27 saves for the win. Hagelin and Brad Richards scored for New York, and Hagelin and Derick Brassard
each had two assists.
Brassard has five points in the series, all of them in the past two games.
"I'm having fun," he said.
The Rangers acquired Brassard, right wing Derek Dorsett and defenseman John Moore from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline for Marian Gaborik.
"They showed confidence in me. I just try to help the team. I know I can bring offense. We have a lot of talent on this team, and that's why I am really excited. We can do a lot of damage, and I want to be a part of it."
Perreault and Troy Brouwer had second-period goals for Washington. Holtby made 30 saves.
"They played really well these last two games," Holtby said. "There is some stuff we have to work on."
Washington never led. New York had leads of 2-0 and 4-2, but the Caps tied the game at 2-2 on Brouwer's goal in the final minute of the second period.
"It's not a good feeling," Washington defenseman Karl Alzner said of the pair of two-goal deficits. "The series has been very tight, so when you are behind two goals, it's not a good feeling and it's tough to come back."
The Capitals surged after Alzner's goal. They attempted 25 shots. Lundqvist made nine saves in the final 7 1/2 minutes, and his teammates blocked 10 shots. Washington also missed six shots.
Washington star Alex Ovechkin was limited to one shot.
"I really have to play better," Ovechkin said. He was called for charging Stepan in the first period, although replays showed he never hit the New York center.
"When we have a chance to play in their zone, we have to use it. (Wednesday night) we didn't do it. Now I think we have lots of reasons to score goals," Ovechkin said.
Tortorella said, "Tonight's game was a game of momentum swings for both teams. The thing I like about our team the past couple of games is that we certainly have bent at times but we didn't break.
"I think our resiliency has really shown in these past two games, and we are going to need that when we go to Washington. They are going to surge there, and we just need to find a way to keep our heads above water and find a way to win a game."
NOTES: Capitals forward Brooks Laich participated in the team's early skate at Madison Square Garden. Laich had only played in nine games this season because of a groin injury and, according to multiple reports, sports hernia surgery. It is believed that he will be able to return to Washington's lineup for the Eastern Conference semifinals provided the Capitals advance. "He's good. Obviously, he is feeling a little better. He is out there skating and handling the puck. Still a little ways away," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "I have talked to him since he has been up to skate and get out there and just handling the puck. Obviously, he can't go full speed, but just get as many touches with the puck as you can." ... Lundqvist was named one of the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the NHL's best goaltender. He was joined by Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky and San Jose's Antti Niemi. "When people appreciate what you do, it's always a fun thing," Lundqvist said. "I am really proud and honored to be in that category with some great goalies." ... New York won 64 percent of the faceoffs in the game. ... Tortorella's 16th playoff win tied him with Mike Keenan for fourth on the franchise's all-time list. Keenan won all 16 games in the Rangers' 1993-94 Stanley Cup championship run.
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