The New York Rangers have been looking for consistency all season long.
There have been moments when they looked like they have found their stride, but those moments are often followed by long goalless stretches.
After finishing the regular season by winning seven of their last 10 games and securing the sixth seed in the playoffs, they were on a roll.
However, they began the playoffs in Washington against the charging Capitals. The Rangers scored one goal in their two games in Washington and limped home to Madison Square Garden with an 0-2 deficit.
There was no question that the Rangers would come with their best effort in Game 3 Monday night. There was a question, however, of whether they would find the offense to overcome the Caps.
The Rangers finally found the back of the net, scoring two clutch third-period goals and emerging with a 4-3 victory to cut the series deficit to 2-1.
There was nothing fluky about this game for New York. It skated hard, it hit hard and it took smart, well-placed shots at Capitals goalie Braden Holtby. The score was tied 2-2 after two periods.
Head coach John Tortorella saw his Rangers play decisive hockey in the final 20 minutes and Arron Asham untied the game for the Rangers when he charged down the slot, received a pass from Derick Brassard and let go of a snap shot to beat Holtby.
The Rangers did not stop pressing, but the Caps did not climb to first place in the Southeast Division after a horrendous start by giving up so easily.
They managed to tie it up on Jay Beagle's deflection of Jack Hillen's wrist shot with just under 13 minutes remaining, as both teams received key goals from depth players Monday night.
The Rangers fought hard for the game-winner. Rick Nash got the puck in the corner and rocketed a pass that was within range for heart-and-soul center Derek Stepan. The gritty forward angled his blade and the puck deflected past Holtby, giving the Rangers the lead with 6:25 remaining.
But Brad Richards took a slashing penalty with 1:54 to go and the Rangers would have more work to do in order to get their first win in the series.
The Caps—with one of the most dangerous power-play units in the NHL featuring Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green—got that look on their faces.
The Washington power play had scored in overtime in Game 2; surely it could do the same at the end of regulation in Game 3.
The Caps' one-man advantage became a two-man edge when the team pulled Holtby.
The Rangers, however, provided a clinic on how to kill a penalty in the clutch. They prevented Green and Ovechkin from taking hard shots and limited the Caps to a couple of weak Mike Ribeiro attempts.
That was not enough to beat Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers had their first win of the series.
The way they earned the win was special. The Rangers found a way to score goals and then relied on their defensive strength to hold off the Capitals.
The Rangers went hard to the net to light the lamp in the third period. That's what they must continue to do if they want to stay on the right track. If the Rangers have solved their offensive problems and can put three or four goals on the board throughout the rest of this series, they should have a good chance to survive and advance.
One game does not make a playoff series, but it can turn one around.
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