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NEW YORK – The Washington Capitals are growing up.
"Everyone's more mature," Jason Chimera said after the Capitals closed with six straight goals to beat the struggling New York Rangers 7-3 on Sunday night.
Washington trailed 3-1 after one period but rallied for its fifth straight win. The Capitals are 24-6-2 and tied with Dallas for the NHL lead with 50 points. They lead the Metropolitan Division by eight points over the Rangers.
"(There is) never enough of a cushion," Chimera said. "You want to get as much as you can."
They certainly did against their longtime rival. Justin Williams had two goals and an assist, Marcus Johansson had a goal and two assists. Chimera, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin also scored. Nicklas Backstrom added three assists and Braden Holtby made 33 saves. Eleven Capitals finished with at least one point.
The Rangers, meanwhile, have lost three in a row and six of eight to fall to 19-12-4. J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider and Dan Boyle scored for New York. Henrik Lundqvist made 19 saves before being pulled, and then Magnus Hellberg made four saves in his NHL debut.
"There's no doubt in my mind that the answer is in that dressing room," said Vigneault, who broke up his top line of Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. Nash skated with Brassard and Miller. Zuccarello was put on a line with Tanner Glass and Kevin Hayes.
Williams' ninth of the season opened the scoring at 12:03. Stationed in front of Lundqvist, Williams tipped Taylor Chorney's shot from the left circle into the net to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead.
Miller equalized 99 seconds later with his seventh of the season, and then New York took a 2-1 lead at 15:44 on Kreider's unassisted goal, his sixth. The advantage grew to 3-1 on Boyle's power-play goal with 1:57 left in the period.
"We had a great response after giving up the first goal," New York captain Ryan McDonagh said. "We felt really good about ourselves."
In the second period, Kuznetsov lifted a highlight-reel backhander over Lundqvist at 5:25, and Oshie's 13th of the season at 7:01 tied the game 3-3.
Washington took the lead 4:02 later on Ovechkin's power-play goal. Left uncovered in his customary spot in the left circle, the Capitals' captain one-timed Johansson's feed over Lundqvist's glove to put Washington ahead 4-3.
Williams completed the barrage with his second of game — this one on the power play — with less than a minute left in the period.
"I see a lot of good building blocks," said Williams, who signed a two-year, $6.5 million free agent contract with Washington on July 1. "We still wanted to push forward, we still wanted to play hard."
Lundqvist allowed five goals on 24 shots and was replaced by Hellberg before the start of the third period.
"I have to look at my own game," Lundqvist said. "I have to be better. I know that."
Chimera's short-handed goal 2:26 into the third pushed Washington's lead to 6-3. Johansson's goal 2:10 later ended the scoring.
"We did well in the big moments," Williams said.
NOTES: Both teams have one game remaining before the Christmas break. ... New York did not have Antti Raanta (head) and Dan Girard (knee) because of injuries. Viktor Stalberg was scratched. ... Washington scratched Stanislav Galiev and Connor Carrick. ... Sir Paul McCartney was among the 18,006 in attendance at Madison Square Garden.