This was a throwback to one of those old Patrick Division playoff matchups, in which opponents met in four series of games from the first two rounds.
Here were the Rangers and Capitals fighting in Washington on Saturday, with no space allowed and no quarter one night after the Capitals prevailed in a similar type of candy pull on the force of two late hits from the incomparable Alex Ovechkin.
Beat the Blueshirts that way once, credit to the Capitals. Beat them twice that way in 27 hours – well, not on interim head coach Kris Knoblauch’s watch.
Or, for that matter, in that of Mika Zibanejad.
Because it was a revived Zibanejad who made a brilliant play by chasing after Brendan Dillon, cutting the defender’s stick before shoving him off the puck before recovering it for himself and whipping Ilya Samsonov on the short side at 17:28 of the third. period to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead in a game they went 3-1, with the help of empty netter Brett Howden.
That was the kind of elite job Zibanejad and the Blueshirts lived through last season, when a late charge landed an invitation to the 24-team party under the bubble. The music died in Toronto, but the squad starts humming again.
“I think they are very committed. I think they feel like they have a chance to make the playoffs and they need to play well during the final stretch, ”said Knoblauch, now 2-1 behind the bench as he replaces David Quinn, who will remain out of the team on the COVID-19 protocol. until at least Friday. “I think there is also a belief that they can play like they did in the second half of last year, when they had a good run.”
Keith Kinkaid was outstanding at the net, poised and in total control when faced with the few bursts allowed by the defense of five men on his team. The commitment to playing through the body and being on the right side of the puck was manifest. So was the Rangers’ dedication to avoiding turnovers or careless puck handling in critical areas of the ice. They gave almost nothing for free.
“I thought we were smart about the puck,” Zibanejad said. “They’re a really good team from the rush, and we just had to make sure we didn’t fuel their offense.
“They all came back. Everyone played hard and contributed in different ways and I think that’s what we’ve done since obviously Philadelphia. [9-0] great victory and in the last two games too. We’ve been pretty good. “
The defense and the goal were forceful when limiting Washington to three goals in 120 minutes, all of them due to rejections from the slot. But one goal was not enough to win on Friday, and the only goal deposited on the bench by Pavel Buchnevich at 17:49 in the first period on Saturday for a 1-0 lead would not be enough once John Carlson scored on a spinning backhand to tie it at 5:55 in the third period.
Knoblauch, who had (or was caught with) his fourth row against Ovechkin’s unit for both Big Eight goals on Friday, cut his bench on it and mounted his horses, or Quinn’s, down the stretch. This was not an easy job from behind the bench.
Alexis Lafreniere got a 34-second turn in the final 12:45 and finished with a season low of 7:53. Filip Chytil got two turns worth 1:10 during the final 12:45. Brendan Lemieux did not get on the ice in the final 9:10. Libor Hajek sat down for the final 11:48 and Brendan Smith was out for the final 8:34 as the club walked away with four defenders in the deciding moment.
Meanwhile, Adam Fox played 5:12 of the final 9:55 and played 10:17 in the third period for a total of 28:00. Zibanejad was active for 2:48 of the final 5:31 for a total of 21:10. Zibanejad won the faceoff to set up Buchnevich’s goal in the first period and then blocked shots before scoring the winning goal.
“We took the puck out and he was basically chasing his D and trying to stay with him,” said Zibanejad, who has 10 points (4-6) in the last five games. “I got a push, I don’t know if it got caught in a groove or something like that, it fell off and I was able to pick up the disc and try to get it into the net. Came in, so it’s good. “It obviously feels good when you can contribute offensively. That’s what is expected of me, obviously, but I’ve said it before, I’ve been feeling pretty good these last few weeks. I feel like myself again. “
The Rangers also look somewhat more stylish.