Late great Caps do it again Third-period surge leads to 4-3 OT win over Rangers


LANDOVER -- Well, they did it again. What can anyone say? The Washington Capitals love life on the edge. Why else would they wait until the final moments in back-to-back games to play hockey?

Last night, it was a two-goal third period that forced overtime, where Michal Pivonka scored with 3:32 left to give the Capitals a 4-3 victory over the New York Rangers.

Saturday, it was a four-goal outburst in the third period that resulted in a 5-5 overtime tie with the Philadelphia Flyers.

And all of it combined to vault the Capitals (20-16-3) into second place in the Patrick Division.

"I guess we own the third period. Incredible," said Capitals coach Terry Murray, who appeared a little stunned by it all. "It was a great comeback."

The third-period performances of late have been particularly pleasing to Murray, since his team struggled mightily in that period a little more than a month ago, when it blew consecutive games to the New Jersey Devils, Minnesota North Stars and Detroit Red Wings.

"You hear the guys talking in the locker room that the third period is our period. 'Let's make it that way the rest of the year.' That's great to hear," said Murray, no doubt hoping his team meant season and not year, since that was the last game in 1992.

Washington's Dimitri Khristich got the 17,191 fans at the Capital Centre on their feet with 12:54 left in the second-place showdown with the Rangers. Following up a shot by Dale Hunter, Khristich reached around the net to put the puck away and close the gap to 3-2.

Then with 2:32 to go in regulation, Pivonka won a faceoff and sent the puck to Peter Bondra, who one-timed it into the net for the 3-3 tie.

Bondra said there had been no conversation between them before the faceoff.

"I think it was probably just good luck," said Bondra, who leads the Capitals with 19 goals. "We played bad for the first two periods, but we came back. We played hard. We worked hard. Now we are happy. It was a big division game and we won. We finish the year in second place."

It was an amazing turnaround, given New York had played stellar defense, smothering the Capitals for more than two periods.

On five of their first six power-play opportunities, Washington -- the NHL's No. 3 power-play unit -- could not get off a shot.

In the final 12 minutes, Washington got off more shots (24) than it had in the previous two periods combined (10).

"We got caught on a couple situations early -- the power play right away and the third goal on a late line change -- and then we come out and play incredibly well in the third period," Murray said. "But there was no magic out there, just hard work."

The night hadn't exactly gotten off to a magical start either from the Capitals' point of view.

Washington's Pat Elynuik was called for hooking 20 seconds into the game and the Rangers were on the scoreboard 23 seconds later, Darren Turcotte scoring on a long-distance shot that made Capitals goalie Don Beaupre look bad.

The Capitals didn't get off a shot for the first 9:55, but when Bob Carpenter took a shot from the far side of the right circle, it was Rangers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck who looked rusty, as the puck skimmed over his right shoulder and into the net.

At that point the Capitals were shooting 100 percent. But Washington failed to capitalize on four power-play opportunities in the first period. It also managed just four shots in the face of New York's defensive effort.

The Rangers weren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard either, getting off just seven shots.

The Rangers took the lead for the second time with 6:49 left in the second period.

The Capitals had been on the attack, but the puck bounced free and Alexei Kovalev, who had produced his first professional hat trick for the Rangers two nights ago against Boston, took a pass from Jay Wells and streaked down the right side of the ice on a counterattack.

Capitals defender Calle Johansson tried to recover, but Kovalev got off the shot. It rebounded to Doug Weight on the left side of the goal and he put it away for the 2-1 lead.

That advantage expanded to 3-1 with 19:05 gone in the period, when Adam Graves caught the Caps on a line change and scored his 15th goal of the season on a 25-footer.

Capitals tonight

What: NHL Superskills Challenge

Site: Capital Centre, Landover

Time: 7:30

Tickets: Free parking and free admission

Outlook: This event tests the individual skills of every player in categories such as hardest shot, fastest skater and most accurate shot. This is a league-wide event, with each conference's four fastest skaters and hardest shooters advancing to the league finals over the All-Star weekend in Montreal.

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