Capitals stand up to best test


NEW YORK -- The Washington Capitals came to Madison Square Garden last night looking to prove their worth.

They came with a 4-2 record under new coach Jim Schoenfeld, including wins in four of their past five games.

But last night, they were playing the New York Rangers, the best team in the NHL, a team that had beaten them four times this season.

Last night, the Capitals not only stood up to adversity and beat the Rangers, 4-1, but they also dominated the last 40 minutes.

"We come in against the top team in the league, and we're kind of wondering about ourselves," said Capitals center Mike Ridley. "And I think maybe other teams are wondering about us. But in the second period, we relaxed a bit and played the way we have been playing and, hopefully, we realize now that we can play with anybody."

It didn't look that way in the first period. That's when Mark Messier stole the puck off Kevin Hatcher's stick and broke away for a short-handed goal with 4:16 to play to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.

It was the Rangers' 15th short-handed goal of the season and a team record.

At that point, Schoenfeld thought his team was in awe of New York, its 34-12-4 record, and the Garden.

"Coach said we looked tight, intimidated," said rookie Pat Peake, who set up Washington's first goal on a two-on-one breakaway with Steve Konowalchuk.

"We came into the room after the first period and looked at each other and asked, 'Why are we standing around watching?' " said defenseman Calle Johansson. "We said, 'Let's show them how to play. Let's move our legs and skate.'

"There wasn't any yelling or screaming, just talk. And what we told ourselves was that we're as good as they are."

There were no five-goal performances from Peter Bondra, the right wing who tied a Capitals record Saturday, but he did score the last goal of the night.

What there was was an all-around gritty defensive performance anchored by goalie Rick Tabaracci, who made several outstanding saves in the third period and wound up with a total of 27.

There also were three well-earned goals from Konowalchuk, Michal Pivonka and Dale Hunter in the second period. They upset the highly touted Rangers so much that coach Mike Keenan pulled starter Mike Richter and sent Glenn Healy into the net for the final period.

There was a penalty-killing effort that left the Capitals and their coach glowing, as they squashed five short-handed opportunities against the No. 1 power-play unit in the league -- including one that stretched over parts of seven minutes.

With 11:37 to play, Capitals defenseman John Slaney was called for a major high-sticking penalty on a play that cut Mike Gartner's eye and put the Rangers on a five-minute power play.

"At that moment you're worried, because the Rangers are such a great team and it's five minutes," said Schoenfeld. "But there was no moment of despair from the bench. It was, 'OK, we'll kill it.' "

And they did. They killed those five minutes and two more, when Ridley was called for hooking with 11 seconds left on the five-minute call.

And then they added an exclamation point, which thoroughly irkedthe Rangers and their 18,200 fans, as Bondra put away his 20th goal of the season with 3:58 to play.

The Capitals are now at .500 (25-25-4) for the seventh time this season. They continue on to St. Louis Thursday for the second game on this three-game road trip, which concludes in Los Angeles on Saturday.

NOTES: Former Capitals coach Terry Murray will take in a few hockey games this week. He is to be in Detroit to see the Red Wings against Vancouver today and visits Dallas tomorrow to see the Stars and Winnipeg. Washington general manager David Poile said Murray wanted to attend the games. He said he and Murray have spoke briefly about a position with the Capitals, and will talk again, possibly later this week.

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