(SportsNetwork.com) - The New York Rangers will shoot for their first lead of the Eastern Conference semifinals when they take on the Washington Capitals in Monday's Game 3 clash at Verizon Center.
The Capitals and Rangers split the first two games of this best-of-seven set in New York. The series shifts to D.C. for the next two battles -- tonight's contest and Game 4 on Wednesday.
After Washington posted a 2-1 win in the opener thanks to Joel Ward's goal with just 1.3 seconds left in regulation, the Blueshirts tied the series with Saturday's 3-2 decision at Madison Square Garden.
The top-seeded Rangers, who have split the first two games in seven of their last 11 playoff series, jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on Saturday and outshot Washington by a 15-4 margin during a superb start to the game. The nearly flawless opening period helped the reigning Eastern Conference champions move past the disappointment of the heartbreaking Game 1 defeat.
"It really bothered me," Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said of Thursday's outcome. "So we tried to use that energy in a good way going into this game and be really determined that we need this one. I think the first period we played one of our better periods."
Lundqvist stopped 30-of-32 shots, marking the 10th straight time he has let up two goals or fewer in a playoff victory at Madison Square Garden.
Chris Kreider and Dan Boyle each produced first-period goals and Derick Brassard added a pivotal marker in the third period to help New York even the series.
The Rangers' quick start caused Washington to take three penalties in the opening period and Boyle converted on New York's second power-play opportunity of the afternoon. The Capitals had killed off all 16 short-handed chances this postseason prior to Boyle's goal, which followed a Ward hooking penalty.
New York went 1-for-4 on the power play, while Washington failed to score on its only chance with the man advantage.
"Well, we had moved on past Thursday night and we were focused on the process of playing a good hockey game and obviously we came out with a good start," Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault remarked.
Each of New York's last nine playoff contests, including all seven this year, have been decided by one goal, the longest active streak in the NHL. The last time the Blueshirts were involved in a postseason game that was decided by more than one goal was in a Game 3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings in last spring's Stanley Cup Finals.
Braden Holtby stopped 32 shots for Washington, which drew within one goal on two occasions over the final two periods but could never come up with the equalizer.
Evgeny Kuznetsov scored with 6:01 remaining in the second period for the Capitals, cutting the deficit to 2-1. However, Brassard would restore New York's two-goal cushion at the 6:07 mark of the third period.
Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one just past the midway point of the final stanza, scoring his second goal of the series with an impressive individual effort.
The reigning Rocket Richard Trophy recipient picked up a head of steam while carrying the puck into the Rangers' zone, powered through defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi and successfully flung a shot over Lundqvist's shoulder while falling to the ice with 9:31 left to play.
Washington was able to apply plenty of pressure on the Rangers in the second half of the third period, particularly after Holtby was pulled with time winding down. Lundqvist came up with a pair of big saves in the final two minutes, however, stopping Troy Brouwer from the slot and later getting a piece of Mike Green's blast that came with just 14 seconds to go.
"We knew the Rangers were going to come out with a very high degree of desperation," Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said. "We just didn't handle it the way we needed to. We needed to get out of that [first] period maybe 1-0, not 2-0. We dug ourselves in a hole, I thought."
This marks the fourth time in the past five seasons that these clubs are getting together in the playoffs and it's the fifth postseason encounter between the Blueshirts and Capitals since 2009. New York won the two previous encounters in 2012 and '13, taking both series in seven games. The only time the clubs haven't faced each other since 2011 was last spring when Washington failed to qualify for the playoffs.
All told, the Caps and Rangers have met eight times in the postseason and each club has taken four series. Four of the eight previous playoff series involving the teams have been knotted at 1-1 after two games. The lower seed has prevailed in three of those situations, though the Rangers downed Washington in seven games as the favorite in the 2012 East semis.
Washington's Eric Fehr has missed six straight games since suffering an upper- body injury in Game 3 of the conference quarterfinals against the Islanders. Although Fehr has been skating on his own, the forward is expected sit out again on Monday.