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Rangers race to 2-0 lead over Capitals


NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers are big, fast and talented, and after last night's 5-2 victory in Game 2 of this NHL Eastern Conference semifinal series, they probably believe they will be advancing to the Eastern Conference finals in another two games.

But for 50 minutes, 47 seconds last night, the Washington Capitals gave the Rangers and the sellout crowd of 18,200 at Madison Square Garden everything they could handle.

"We're going home, into a building where we've played very well in the postseason," said Washington center Dave Poulin. "We're going home, knowing we showed we're capable of being in this series."

Playing without leading scorer Michal Pivonka (groin), No. 1 goalie Don Beaupre (groin) and defensemen Calle Johansson (traumatized nerve) and Jim Johnson (knee ligaments), the Capitals dominated at both ends much of the night.

Going into the third period, the Caps were down only 3-2.

But then, in an overwhelming 19 seconds, the Rangers struck for back-to-back goals by Adam Graves and Stephane Matteau to put away the game.

The Rangers' outburst began with 9:13 left, when Washington defenseman Jason Woolley, called up from the Portland Pirates Monday night, had his pass picked off in the Caps' zone.

"It was a tough play," said Woolley. "And it sort of surprised me, but I don't know what else I could have done. I guess I could have turned and thrown it behind the net, but I didn't know who was there, either."

With the Rangers leading the best-of-seven series two games to none, play moves to Landover with leading scorer Michal Pivonka and goalie Don Beaupre sidelined with groin pulls and defensemen Calle Johansson and Jim Johnson out with nerve damage and knee ligaments, respectively.

The sellout crowd of 18,200 were on their feet chanting, "Richter, Richter," as the Rangers goalie stopped everything coming his way in the closing moments.

A 1-1 first-period tie lasted only 1:38 into the second period. That's when Sergei Zubov beat Caps defenseman Sylvain Cote, skated in on Tabaracci and gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead.

And when Kelly Miller, who 5 feet 11 and 195 pounds, got the puck in the Rangers zone, he refused to be outdone by the bigger and stronger Jay Wells (6-1, 210).

Miller kept possession of the puck and maintained control, carrying it behind the Rangers net and around the far boards, from where he made a back-hand pass to Dave Poulin.

Poulin swiftly sent the puck toward the net, and a tumbling Mike Ridley somehow got it past goalie Mike Richter for a 2-2 tie with 4:35 gone.

In Game 1, the Capitals also forged a 2-2 tie, but before they could do anything with it, the Rangers struck for a third goal by Brian Leetch and were off to a 6-3 victory.

Last night, the Rangers again took a 3-2 lead.

This one came while the official's arm was in the air denoting a penalty to be called on the Capitals. The Rangers, seeing their advantage, got Richter off the ice and sent in a sixth attacker.

With 9:16 left, Esa Tikkanen swept in for the goal.

NOTES: The New York newspapers reported yesterday that an on-ice official warned the Rangers to take Sergei Zubov off the ice near the end of the third period Sunday, when the Rangers were leading 6-3, because the Caps were "targeting" him.

Last night, NHL vice president and director of operations Brian Burke said it was a dead issue.

Washington .... 1 .. 1 .. 0 .. -- .. 2

N.Y. Rangers .. 1 .. 2 .. 2 .. -- .. 5


NEW YORK -- Washington Capitals defenseman Calle Johansson, struggling with a traumatized nerve in his left leg, did not get the news he hoped for yesterday when he visited Dr. Morton Spinner, a neurological specialist on Long Island.

"He said it could come back, but probably not for a while," said Johansson about the nerve injury that has numbed his lower leg and foot and kept him out of action.

"He said to give it three months and then we'd look at it again and see the progress."

Johansson was injured in Game 6 of the Caps' Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with Pittsburgh, when the Penguins' Shawn McEachern clubbed Johansson in the back of the leg with his stick.

NHL vice president and director of operations Brian Burke said he will hold a disciplinary hearing next week for McEachern.

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