NEW YORK -- Two days after allowing three goals on 14 shots in a loss to the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby arrived in much better form Monday night for the second game of the teams' Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The Saskatchewan native -- who played just seven games for Washington during the regular season before taking a star turn in the Capitals' seven-game upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins -- made 26 saves on 28 shots to backstop Washington to a 3-2 win, tying the series at one game apiece.
The Rangers were game, battling their way back from a 2-0 deficit on a pair of hard-earned goals, but Washington captain Alexander Ovechkin picked the perfect time to score his first goal of the series, breaking the tie to provide the margin of victory at 12:33 of the third period.
Ovechkin didn't get star minutes in the contest, playing just 13:36, but he came up with a star performance when it was needed.
"You need everybody," Washington coach Dale Hunter said, "and Ovie's a team guy. He's cheering the guys on. He knows what these guys are going to do: They've got to go out there and slide and block shots, and he appreciates that."
The Capitals opened the scoring 12:20 into the first period on the second goal of the playoffs by Mike Knuble. The Capitals took advantage of a Stu Bickel turnover to create a 3-on-2 break with Knuble beating Henrik Lundqvist after receiving a pass across the crease from Joel Ward.
"It was a great pass," Knuble said of the feed from Ward. "He sent a rocket right across the crease and right at my tape. It was a good way to kind of relieve the pressure, because I think they were coming on a bit."
The Capitals doubled their advantage at 17:14 on the third goal of the playoffs by Jason Chimera.
The Rangers sprung rookie Chris Kreider on a breakaway as he exited the penalty box, but Holtby stood tall in the crease and stopped the shot. When the Capitals sent the puck back the other way, Lundqvist got caught behind his net trying to play the puck as it came back to Matt Hendricks. Lundqvist and defenseman Anton Stralman were able to stop Hendricks' initial shot, but Chimera played the puck off the skate of Ryan McDonagh as the defenseman came back to help, and the puck bounced into the net.
"Things like that happen in games," New York defenseman Marc Staal said of the bad bounces. "We have to work hard and get on them for those bounces to happen for us."
The Rangers got one back with 42.4 seconds left in the period on the fourth goal of the playoffs for Brad Richards. The Capitals got caught at a numbers disadvantage with Brooks Laich trying to change, and the Rangers made good on a 3-on-2 opportunity when Richards tapped home a pass from Marian Gaborik.
Following a scoreless second period, the Rangers got the tying goal when their inconsistent power play came to life at 6:58 of the third period, resulting in team captain Ryan Callahan's third goal of the playoffs. Callahan set up shop in the crease in front of Holtby, and he was in position to get the deflection on Michael Del Zotto's shot from the right-wing faceoff circle.
The Capitals retook their advantage with 7:27 remaining on the first goal of the series for Ovechkin. With his team on its second consecutive power play, Ovechkin -- who has been targeted consistently by the Madison Square Garden crowd -- received the puck off the faceoff from Nicklas Backstrom, curled to the point and unleashed a powerful wrist shot that beat Lundqvist high on the stick side.
"Nicky wins the faceoff," Ovechkin said, "and I kind of turn and felt like I was going to have some pressure, but when I turned, I saw that nobody came to me. (Troy Brouwer) did a great job, goes to the front of the net, and it was kind of a lucky shot."
Lundqvist said, "First I saw it, then I didn't see it, and then I saw it. It was a hard shot, it was a good shot. Unfortunately, someone got tied up, and he got a free lane. It's the wrong guy to get that opportunity. It was tough because we killed a penalty and then we were back on the PK again in a critical time of the game. We gave ourselves a chance, working back in the third, but it wasn't enough.
The Rangers had chances late, including a Del Zotto shot from the point that rang off the crossbar, but the Capitals held strong to escape with the victory.
Game 3 of the series is scheduled for Thursday night at the Verizon Center.
NOTES: Rangers center Brian Boyle returned to action Monday after missing three games with a concussion. Boyle has two game-winning goals for the Rangers in the playoffs. ... New York Giants offensive lineman David Baas, tight end Travis Beckum and placekicker Lawrence Tynes were in attendance, along with former Giants center Shaun O'Hara and former heavyweight boxer Gerry Cooney. ... The Rangers were looking to win four consecutive playoff games for the first time since their opening-round sweep of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2007.