NEW YORK -- The Washington Capitals edged closer to first place last night, handing the front-running New York Rangers their third straight loss, 5-2.
Showcasing tough goaltending by Don Beaupre, solid marksmanship and a blanketing defense on Rangers stars Brian Leetch and Mark Messier, the Capitals skated to within three points of the Rangers.
"This was a must win for us because I can't see the Rangers losing a six- or seven-point lead," said Beaupre, who turned away 27 shots, topped by two highlight-film saves in the opening period.
Talk had begun to surface about the Rangers' usual March dive after losses to the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers, and there were even a few boos early from the upper reaches of sold-out Madison Square Garden when the Capitals skated to a 2-0, first-period lead.
"This puts Washington right back in the race for first place so we know we better get it going," Rangers coach Roger Neilson said after the team's first three-game losing streak since October.
Protecting a 2-1 lead, Calle Johansson, Al Iafrate and Michal Pivonka delivered insurance goals in the final period, Pivonka's into an empty net with less than a minute to go and the Rangers on a six vs. four power play.
Beaupre, winning for the eighth time in his past 14 starts, opened the game with 20 shutout minutes and closed with another strong period.
"Beaupre is our guy," said coach Terry Murray. "He will allow us to go as far as he can take us in the playoffs and all you want from him is to go out and play his game."
Beaupre quieted a sold-out Madison Square Garden by turning back Tim Kerr and then Sergie Nemchinov with big saves, as the Capitals skated to a 2-0 first-period lead.
Kerr beat Beaupre late in the middle period to cut the Capitals' 2-0 lead in half.
The burly center got only his sixth of the season when he deflected Jan Erixon's shot at shoulder level to sneak over Beaupre's shoulder and just under the crossbar with 2:27 left.
Otherwise the second period was punctuated by a couple of fights, a host of penalties and 17 fruitless Capitals shots on goaltender Mike Richter.
On the Rangers' first of three power-play opportunities, Beaupre and the far post robbed Kerr. Situated to the right of Beaupre, Kerr was untouched to punch in the rebound off Brian Leetch's wide shot, but he hit the post and the puck rolled toward the goal line where Beaupre reached behind and gloved it.
Though the red light went on, referee Don Koharski was in perfect position to wave it off.
In the same two minutes, Beaupre snatched Sergei Nemchinov's blistering shot. The Rangers fans, apparently believing the puck had been past the goal line when it was stopped, urged Koharski to go to the video replay to change his call, but the man in charge simply whistled for a faceoff.
Though Beaupre starred, Murray lauded the team's defensive effort, which limited Leetch to three shots and Messier to one.
"Everybody was very intense and very responsible away from the puck and this is a good indication of the way our guys are
capable of playing when you get everybody contributing," he said.
Beaupre's heroics and goals by John Druce and Dimitri Khristich gave the Capitals their 2-0 lead.
Druce poked in a loose puck through Richter's pads with 12:51 left and then Khristich got a team-high No. 29 off a perfect feed by Dale Hunter on the power play with 9:35 to play.
Just 13 seconds after King was whistled for interference, Khristich was parked at the goal crease and Hunter's pass zipped past Richter and right on the center's stick for an easy goal.
"I'm sure Roger had put a lot of emphasis on this game and I probably repeated those same words in our locker room," said Murray. "To make it three points instead of seven is a big win."
Washington ..2 0 3 -- 5
N.Y. Rangers 0 1 1 -- 2
First period--1, Washington, Druce 19 (Krygier, Cote), 7:09. 2, Washington, Khristich 29 (Hunter, Pivonka), 10:25 (pp). Penalties--Beukeboom, NY (cross-checking), :09; MacDermid, Was (interference), 3:04; King, NY (interference), 10:12; Cote, Was (interference), 13:15; Iafrate, Was (hooking), 18:32.
Second period--3, New York, Kerr 6 (Erixon, Nemchinov), 17:33. Penalties--Beukeboom, NY, double minor (slashing, unsportsmanlike conduct), 4:06; Iafrate, Was (high-sticking), 5:07; Hardy, NY (interference), 8:14; Beukeboom, NY (charging), 11:49; Hunter, Was, major (fighting), 11:49; Graves, NY, major zTC (fighting), 11:49; Iafrate, Was (holding), 14:03; MacDermid, minor-major (fighting, instigator), 18:28; King, NY, major (fighting), 18:28.
Third period--4, Washington, Johansson 12 (Hunter), 7:23. 5, Iafrate 15 (Khristich, Hunter), 10:01. 6, New York, Turcotte 26 (Gartner, Leetch), 17:39. 7, Washington, Pivonka 22 (Tippett, Langway), 19:11 (sh-en). Penalties--Miller, Was (interference), 3:44; Iafrate, Was, double minor (tripping, unsportsmanlike conduct), 18:06.
Shots on goal--Washington 12-17-9--38. New York 7-5-17--29.
Power-play opportunities--Washington 1 of 6; New York 0 of 7.
Goalies--Washington, Beaupre, 25-14-5 (29 shots-27 saves). New York, Richter, 20-10-2 (37-33).
K? Referee--Don Koharski. Linesmen--Gord Broseker, Mark Vines.