LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals stretched their first winning streak of the season to three games last night, which means that in four days they have doubled their win production of the first 37 days and 18 games.
For the third night, with rookie Jim Carey in goal, the Capitals came up with timely goals and timely saves. This time they resulted in an impressive 4-2 victory over the Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers, who joined the New York Islanders and the Montreal Canadiens on Washington's hit list.
"It's a funny game," said Washington Capitals captain Dale Hunter. "We've been working hard, and now we're getting a few bounces. One inch this way, one inch that way, it's the difference. Now we're scoring a few goals. Now we're winning. I don't like to think about why we're doing it. We're just doing it."
Entering the third period in a 2-2 tie, the Capitals needed just 1:07 for Hunter to reach the slot at the same time as a pass from Jim Johnson, and Hunter didn't miss as he slammed it past Rangers goalie Mike Richter.
The Caps' fourth goal came with one second left, when Kelly Miller scored into an open net. The Capitals, who couldn't manage 13 goals in their first eight games, have 13 in the past three games.
New York coach Colin Campbell said his team "finally played a real stinker" last night, as the Rangers (11-9-2 and fourth in the Eastern Conference) had a four-game unbeaten streak end. Mark Messier, who had 12 points in his last eight games, got only one shot and was shut out. But defenseman Brian Leetch said Carey made "good, big saves" that mattered.
One of the biggest came in the first two minutes of the game, when he stopped Leetch on a breakaway at 18:58.
"A save like that changes the game for the whole night," said Caps forward Keith Jones, who tied the game at 1 with 14:58 gone in the first period. "When we got to the third period and had that one-goal lead, with the way Jim has been playing, it made us real calm. We're playing to win now. We're not hesitant. We're doing everything it takes."
Most of the 15,521 fans at USAir Arena seemed to enjoy what they saw, as they booed down early chants of "Go, Rangers" from New York's loyal following and closed out the night with "Go home, Rangers."
And those fans stood and cheered as Carey came up big on shots by Alexei Kovalev and Alex Karpovtsev during a Rangers power play with 5:52 to go.
"It's only three games," said Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld. "We can't get carried away. But tonight was a test, a mental and physical test, and we passed it. When we had that one-goal lead in the third, we didn't go, 'Wooooo.' We just kept playing the same way we have been. Carey comes up big when we need him, and that gives us a mental edge, a stronger sense of calm."
Washington is not in the playoff picture yet, but the Capitals did pull into a tie with Florida for 12th in the Eastern Conference, where the top eight teams make the postseason.
The Caps hope to continue their charge "toward the heap," as Schoenfeld put it, when they make their last visit to Boston Garden tomorrow, for a game against the Bruins (12-7-2).
The Capitals continued to demonstrate their recently discovered resilience in the first two periods last night, but wound up tied 2-2 after two.
The Caps held the Rangers' power-play unit scoreless on six tries, including a five-minute major, when Michal Pivonka was called for high sticking and given a game misconduct. The six kills means the Capitals have not allowed a power-play goal on 17 extra-man chances over the past six games.
New York 1 1 0 -- 2
Washington 1 1 2 -- 4