NEW YORK — The key moment of the New York Rangers’ Game 4 win over the Washington Capitals might have occurred off ice between the second and third periods.
New York had squandered a two-goal lead and the momentum in the second. But a fortuitous power play after the buzzer set up the Rangers to grab it all back.
And they did.
Dan Girardi made the most of Jason Chimera’s interference penalty, scoring the go-ahead goal 59 seconds into the third. That led to New York’s 4-3 victory on Wednesday night that tied the best-of-seven series 2-2.
“We’ve done better as the series has gone on,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “The game was a series of momentum swings for both teams. The thing I like about our team the past couple of games is that we certainly have bent at times but didn’t break.”
Derek Stepan also scored in the third for the Rangers, who built their second two-goal lead before holding on for their second straight 4-3 win.
Girardi ripped a shot from above the left circle off a feed from Derick Brassard to give the Rangers the lead again.
“We had some lapses,” Capitals forward Joel Ward said. “They scored a power-play goal, and that was tough for us. Plus it is never easy to be down two goals as we were.”
Tortorella said the team’s struggling power play was discussed during intermission, and the talk paid off.
“It was a really good power play,” Girardi said. “Brass made a heck of a play to get it to the middle of the ice. I knew I was going to shoot far side. It just happened to go in.”
Stepan made it 4-2 at 6:02, scoring into a wide-open net at the end of a give-and-go play in front with Carl Hagelin, who had a goal and two assists.
Game 5 will be back in Washington on Friday before the series returns to Madison Square Garden on Sunday. The home team has won all four games in the first-round Eastern Conference matchup.
“We’re a confident group in here,” Hagelin said. “We do know we can’t play in Washington like the last game there. We’ve got to come in and play better.”
Brad Richards and Hagelin staked the Rangers to a 2-0 lead, but goals by Mathieu Perreault and Troy Brouwer tied it for Washington. The Capitals closed within 4-3 when defenseman Karl Alzner’s shot caromed in off of Perreault for his second of the game at 7:31 of the third.
Henrik Lundqvist, announced as a Vezina Trophy finalist earlier Wednesday, made 27 saves. Braden Holtby stopped 30 shots for Washington.
New York has won only one series in which it trailed 0-2.
“So far we’re just taking care of business at home,” Lundqvist said. “Coming back home being down two games, we had a lot of pressure, but we stepped up. So far we just tied the series. We still need to do whatever we can to get the next one.”
The Rangers scored four goals in each of their two home playoff wins after scoring a total of one in two road losses.
“We knew it was going to be a tough series,” Holtby said. “They played really well these last two games and there is some stuff we need to work on.
“It’s a three-game series now. We still have home-ice advantage.”
Despite having a 26-15 shots advantage through two periods, the Rangers found themselves locked in a tie heading into the third. Washington was outshot 13-9 in the second but scored twice in the final 6:52 to get even after Hagelin made it 2-0.
The Capitals began spending more time in the New York zone and making it increasingly difficult for the Rangers to get the puck out. The momentum was shifting, and the nervousness began to grow within the crowd as Washington’s puck possession became more dangerous.
It just wasn’t enough for the Capitals.
“I really have to play better,” said captain Alex Ovechkin, who recorded only one shot and was a minus-1. “When we have a chance to play in their zone we have to use it. Tonight we didn’t do it.”
Ward got the Capitals going when he led a strong rush up ice after the Rangers gave away the puck. Ward charged in, with Perreault, and made a hard move on defenseman Michael Del Zotto. Ward got Del Zotto down to the ice near the left post and feathered a pass through the crease to Perreault, who tied up Richards and slid in his first career playoff goal.
The Rangers appeared set to get out of the second with the one-goal lead they brought into it, but Brouwer’s first of the playoffs tied it with 17.1 seconds left in the period.
Hagelin’s second goal of the series doubled the Rangers’ lead midway through the second. Brassard, who had a goal and two assists in the Rangers’ win in Game 3, made a hard pass from the right point to the left circle that Hagelin fired into the top right corner of the net.
The Rangers had taken a 1-0 lead in the first off a gaffe by Holtby. The goalie drifted to his left to track down a dump-in several feet in front and wide of the net. His clearing attempt was knocked down by New York forward Taylor Pyatt, who moved the puck to Hagelin.
With Holtby well out of position, Hagelin’s shot at a net guarded only by defenseman John Erskine was saved by Erskine. The rebound bounced in front to Richards, who scored his first goal of the series and 28th in 87 career postseason games.
The otherwise calm period picked up in intensity in the final three-plus minutes.
The Rangers were killing a tripping penalty against Del Zotto and got a short-handed chance. Stepan and Washington’s Martin Erat raced after a puck that was sliding into the Washington end. They collided as Ovechkin barreled into both players and knocked them down.
Stepan slid hard into the end boards behind Holtby, and Erat had his arm pinned as he fell into the net. Ovechkin and Erat were penalized for charging and hooking, respectively, giving the Rangers a 5-on-3 power that began after Del Zotto left the penalty box 23 seconds later.
New York couldn’t do anything with the two-man edge in the final 1:11 of the period, or the final 26 seconds that carried over into the second.
NOTES: The Rangers were without D Marc Staal, who returned in Game 3 from a serious eye injury that forced him to miss 29 games. New York got back LW Ryane Clowe after he sat out four games because of a suspected concussion. He earned an assist on Hagelin’s goal. … Erat was knocked out of the game by injury. … Brouwer has seven career playoff goals. … The Rangers were 1 for 4 on the power play and are 2 for 17 in the series.