NEW YORK -- The Washington Capitals brought a couple of problems into last night's game, then encountered another one.
Opening a four-game road trip and playing without injured defenseman Calle Johansson, the Capitals ran into a strong performance by Mark Messier and suffered a 5-4 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Messier, who had a widely discussed role in the recent firing of coach Roger Neilson, set up three goals and scored one in passing the 1,200-point mark.
Messier's output offset Kevin Hatcher's first career hat trick. Hatcher's third goal, with just more than three minutes left, cut the margin to 5-4 and gave the Caps a chance to tie. But goalie John Vanbiesbrouck stopped a shot from the point by Al Iafrate -- the 50th of Washington's 51 shots.
"I thought Vanbiesbrouck won the game for them," Iafrate said. "We said to one another, 'We've got to work hard,' and we did, but their goalie stoned us. That's what I saw. Maybe we relied too much on our power play. [Of our shots], maybe 35 were on the power play."
Messier also played a big role, contributing to four of the Rangers' five goals.
"I thought he played well," Hatcher said of Messier. "He's a top player in the NHL. When you play the Rangers, you've got to prepare for him. Compared to the last time we saw him, he was a better player tonight."
Hatcher had scored two goals and set up another to give Washington a 3-1 lead. Then the game changed, as the Caps began taking penalties.
"We became our own worst enemy," coach Terry Murray said. "You try to keep things at a tempo. We tried to get two kills."
The Caps killed the first of the infractions. But James Patrick scored with Dimitri Khristich in the penalty box at 8:04 of the second period -- the first of four unanswered goals for New York.
Washington carried a 3-2 lead into the third period, but started taking penalties again. The Caps killed Mike Ridley's interference penalty at 1:01, but Mike Gartner cashed in Rod Langway's holding call. It was the ex-Cap's 29th goal of the year.
Messier, who was selected the first star of the game, then put a well-placed shot past Hrivnak for his 19th goal of the year.
"I tried to make him shoot," Iafrate said of the play. "He shot. He scored."
And Adam Graves, with an assist from Messier, made it 5-3 at 15:42.
Murray said he thought Hrivnak might have been bumped. "Something happened," Murray said. "He fell down. He was turned around."
Hatcher said the Caps failed to handle the Rangers when they raised their level. It was just the third time the Caps lost a game after taking a lead into the third period.
"They knew they needed a goal," Hatcher said. "They started playing more aggressive. It's hard to defend when you get two guys going to the net."
Washington fell to 1-5 in its last six road games, and missed a chance to reach .500 in division play.
"I thought we did a lot of good things out there to get 51 shots on net," Hatcher said. "Vanbiesbrouck played a good game. I think it's just important that we don't hang our heads now."
Hatcher scored his first goal on a power-play feed from Iafrate at 7:35 of the first period, tying the score 1-1. He made it 2-1 by stepping around a crowd in front. With 3:06 left in the game, Hatcher completed the hat trick on a rebound.
"Hatcher had a fantastic night," Murray said. "He really rose to the occasion. Calle was out, so he picked up, and really had a terrific game."
Unfortunately for the Caps, Messier did, too.
Washington 2 1 1 -- 4
N.Y. Rangers 1 1 3 -- 5