Rangers 5, Capitals 4
“We needed to win an ugly game,” said Jagr, whose NHL-leading 45th goal in the third period pushed the Rangers to a 5-4 win over the Washington Capitals that snapped a season-worst, six-game losing streak.
Jagr has always been a reluctant leader but he is the main reason the Rangers have been playoff contenders all season and why they moved two points ahead of Philadelphia in the race for the Atlantic Division title Thursday night.
When he screamed at the bench after the Rangers squandered two leads to the lowly Capitals, coach Tom Renney calmed the MVP favorite down.
It worked, because Jagr’s winning goal was as relaxed and impressive as a hockey move can be.
Jagr, who also assisted on Petr Sykora’s second-period goal, used his backhand to forcefully steer around defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, switched the puck to his forehand and slid a shot around Olie Kolzig’s pad at 7:08 while the teams were skating 4-on-4.
“He was the difference maker,” Renney said. “The strength of the man and the ability to get around the defenseman, get it to the net and put it away is unbelievable. That’s what makes him special.”
And just what the Capitals thought they were getting when they acquired Jagr from Pittsburgh. But after 2 1/2 lackluster seasons in Washington, he was sent to New York.
Now the Rangers are in position to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
This one didn’t come easy. New York blew a two-goal lead for the second straight home game, against the team with the second-fewest points in the NHL.
“It was not pretty. That might be the understatement of the year,” Renney said.
New York busted out of its scoring slump with three power-play goals— taking advantage of the league’s worst road penalty killers after scoring only nine times overall in the losing skid that included two overtime defeats.
“We needed this game big time,” Nylander said. “We got it and it’s going to be an energy booster and a confidence booster.”
Brian Sutherby and Brian Willsie rallied Washington from a 2-0 deficit. Bryan Muir got the Capitals even at 3 in the second period, and Chris Clark gave them their only lead with 6:24 left in the middle period.
Ozolinsh tied it with his first Rangers goal since being acquired a week earlier from Anaheim. He zipped a shot through traffic and past Kolzig 4 seconds into a power play and with 1:19 left in the second period.
Things didn’t start well for New York when Nylander was given a 4-minute, high-sticking penalty just 24 seconds in.
Henrik Lundqvist, who earned his first victory since leading Sweden to the Olympic gold medal, kept the Capitals off the board when he robbed Dainius Zubrus from in close with a snatching glove on the power play. Two minutes after Nylander got out of the box, New York took the lead.
Rucchin finished off a pretty passing play started by Martin Straka and Ozolinsh, and steered a shot into an open net before Kolzig could get back into position at 6:36 of the first.
Prucha made it 2-0 1:56 later with his first goal in his second home game back from a knee injury that kept him out of the Olympics. Lundqvist, who finished with 36 saves, earned an assist.
Sutherby cut the Capitals’ deficit to 2-1 with 2:41 left in the period in which they held a 19-11 shots advantage. Washington tied it on Willsie’s goal at 1:17 of the second.
Sykora’s 17th put New York back in front, but Washington tied it on Muir’s eighth and took the lead on Clark’s 15th.
The Capitals, who held a 40-27 shots edge, thought they got even again in the third but the goal with just under 9 minutes remaining was waved off by referee Tom Kowal.
“Did I hear a whistle before the puck went in the net? No, of course not,” Capitals coach Glen Hanlon said. “The interpretation of the rule was explained to me and I don’t agree with it.”
Ozolinsh, who helped set up Rucchin’s goal, has assists in three straight games. … LW Ben Clymer, who had two assists, matched his career high with three points in Washington’s loss to Buffalo on Tuesday. He has three goals and five assists in five games. … The Rangers had D Marek Malik (shoulder) back in the lineup but were without LW Martin Rucinsky. Malik assisted on Jagr’s goal.