Pavelec, Rangers blank Capitals in shootout
NEW YORK — Through 65 minutes, the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers were unable to put a single puck into the opponent’s net, something that wouldn’t be surprising given the caliber of goaltenders each team possesses.
However, on this night, it was the backup netminders stealing the show. The Capitals’ Philipp Grubauer and the Rangers’ Ondrej Pavelec held off the opposition while former Vezina Trophy winners Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist watched from the bench.
It wasn’t until the shootout that Grubauer became the goaltender to blink in the unexpected duel.
Mats Zuccarello and Mika Zibanejad scored on the Rangers’ two attempts while Pavelec denied T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin to lift the Rangers to a crucial 1-0 victory on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
In the highly competitive and tight Metropolitan Division, both the Capitals and Rangers needed at least a point out of this game to avoid falling back in the standings. The New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes all won earlier Wednesday while the Columbus Blue Jackets earned a point in their overtime loss to Pittsburgh.
With the game hanging in the balance in the third period, the Rangers delivered what coach Alain Vigneault said may have been his team’s best period of the season. The Rangers outshot the Capitals 18-6 and would have had a regulation goal if not for Grubauer’s heroics.
“Obviously, you want to keep those thoughts out of your mind, but it’s the third period,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said about the possibility of getting no points from the game. “Sometimes when that happens, a break goes the other way on you and you could be behind. I thought we were pretty good with our calculated risk.”
Pavelec was at his best in the second period when the Capitals pumped 13 shots on net. The Rangers (20-13-4) otherwise played a strong game in front of Pavelec, who had not played since stopping 44 of 45 shots against the Dallas Stars on Dec. 11.
“It was even more impressive coming off (the holiday) break like that, not really having a practice, just a quick morning skate like this,” Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. “It was good that he knew he was going to play this game (before the break), so he could do what he needed to be prepared.”
“I think we played really well defensively, especially in the third,” Pavelec said.
The Capitals (22-13-3) had a great chance to win the game in overtime, as defenseman John Carlson swung behind the net and reemerged for a wraparound chance with Pavelec out of position. Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei did just enough to knock the puck off Carlson’s stick and help the game get to a shootout.
Despite putting 30 shots on Pavelec in regulation and overtime, the Capitals felt they could have done more.
“I think we had a couple good chances, but I think throughout the whole game, he was able to see the shots and there was no traffic,” Ovechkin said. “When we had the opportunity to shoot the puck, we tried to make a play.”
“I mean, the only reason we got a point is Grubauer,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said, referring to his goaltender’s 37 saves. “We mismanaged the puck in the middle of the ice, we turned pucks over. (Grubauer) got us every save possible, and we weren’t able to get a goal and obviously in the shootout, we didn’t get it done.”
The Capitals have lost three straight while the Rangers avoided that same fate after losing their final two games before the break. The Rangers will look to bottle their third-period effort before facing the Red Wings in Detroit on Friday, their final game before the Winter Classic at Citi Field against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday.
“I’m hoping that we are going to continue to play that way,” Vigneault said. “A big part of tonight, if you want to talk about our defensive game, was more playing with the puck. Playing with the puck quick, making the right decisions, and you can create some great looks offensively like I thought we did.”
NOTES: Capitals D Christian Djoos left the game with 8:04 to play in the third period after taking a puck in the face. ... Capitals RW Alex Chiasson returned to the lineup after not playing Saturday. He replaced C Chandler Stephenson (illness). ... Washington also scratched F Nathan Walker and D Taylor Chorney. ... With both backup goaltenders starting, Capitals G Braden Holtby is expected to get the start Thursday in Washington against the Boston Bruins, while Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist should be between the pipes when the Rangers visit the Detroit Red Wings on Friday. ... Rangers LW Chris Kreider did not return to the game following the first period for unspecified reasons. ... The Rangers scratched RW Jesper Fast (quad) and D Steven Kampfer (healthy).