WASHINGTON -- As New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said after his team's 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, "This game is a game of inches."
That was certainly the case Friday night when, seconds after Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi hit the post at one end of the ice, Capitals left winger Eric Fehr beat rookie goaltender Cam Talbot on a goal Talbot said he should have stopped.
"I thought I was going to deke wide and I changed my game plan and just shot puck," Fehr said of his game-winning goal with 5:09 remaining. "It was nice to get that one at a good time."
Fehr, who was playing in his 300th game for the Capitals, broke free while the teams were skating at 4-on-4 and snapped a shot past the blocker of Talbot, who was starting his third straight game in place of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Talbot fell to 8-3-0 with the loss.
"It was just a quick release and it just beat me," Talbot said. "It's (a save) that I've got to make, especially in a situation like that where it's a tie game with five minutes to go and we're pressing for the win."
Capitals rookie goaltender Philipp Grubauer stopped 38 of 40 shots to improve his record to 5-1-1. His first NHL victory came against the Rangers on Dec. 8 in New York and he has been nearly flawless in six starts since then.
"It's only been eight games and goalies, like everybody, have their waves," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "Right now it looks like he's playing with confidence and he's giving the players confidence."
The Capitals (20-14-4) snapped a two-game losing streak with the win and opened a six-point lead on the Rangers (18-19-2), who had their two-game win streak snapped.
"It's always important for us to win in regulation," Fehr said. "Too often we rely on the shootout and come playoff time that's not there for us. We have to find ways to be a better team in the third period and close out games and win it (in regulation)."
The Rangers entered the third period trailing 2-1 and without defenseman Anton Stralman, who left the game in the first period with an injury and did not return.
It took New York just 17 seconds to score short-handed. Left winger Carl Hagelin took an outlet pass from defenseman Ryan McDonagh and beat Grubauer with a backhander between the pads. It was Hagelin's ninth goal of the season and his third career short-handed goal. McDonagh has the only other short-handed goal for the Rangers this season.
The Capitals were outshot 32-20 in the first 40 minutes but carried a 2-1 lead into the final period thanks to a power-play goal by defenseman Mike Green and an even-strength goal by center Nicklas Backstrom.
The Caps jumped out to an early lead when Green drew a tripping penalty on forward Rick Nash, then hammered a power-play slap shot through a screen and behind Talbot. The goal was Green's third of the season and came in his 35th game. Green played in 35 games last season and scored a league-high 12 goals.
The Rangers answered with their own power-play goal in the second period. With Backstrom in the penalty box for interfering with Rangers center Dominic Moore, left winger Benoit Pouliot parked himself in front of Grubauer and redirected a point shot by center Brad Richards for his sixth goal of the season. The goal also extended Pouliot's point streak to a career-high six games.
The Capitals failed on their next two power plays but took their second lead of the game with 65 seconds remaining in the second period.
After Grubauer stopped three shots in 11 seconds, Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy banked a pass off the boards for Backstrom, who snapped a shot from the right circle off Talbot's blocker and into the net for his 10th goal of the season and a 2-1 lead.
"It seems like you need to send two or three guys at him to get the puck away from him," Fehr said of Backstrom. "It's what we expect from him every night, but it's pretty unbelievable to watch."
NOTES: Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist served as a backup to rookie G Cam Talbot for the third straight game. The last time he sat out three games in a row was in December 2006. "It's tough," Lundqvist told reporters before the game. "You want to be out there and playing. You want to play well, and you want to win, but in the end, it's about the team and it's about winning." ... Capitals LW Brooks Laich sat out for the 12th time in 13 games with a groin injury. ... Capitals coach Adam Oates said before the game that he was not enthused about having three days off for the Christmas holiday, especially with his team returning to play three games in four nights. "I'm a little concerned," Oates said. "I think three days off is crazy, I do. ... I'm begging we don't get hurt." ... The Capitals play four of their next five games on the road, beginning with back-to-back games in Buffalo and Ottawa on Sunday and Monday nights. The Rangers continue their five-game road trip on Sunday night in Tampa, followed by stops in Sunrise, Fla., Pittsburgh and Toronto.