Well, the reason for New York's 3-0 victory turned out to be a fired-up Mark Messier, who scored twice and assisted on Pat Verbeek's goal in between, and goalie Mike Richter, who recorded his 11th career shutout and second of the season with a 30-save performance before a sellout crowd of 18,200 at Madison Square Garden.
The win extended the Rangers' home unbeaten streak to 15 games and ended the Capitals' four-game unbeaten string. Washington hadn't been shut out since Nov. 18 in Pittsburgh, also by 3-0.
Also, the Rangers evened the season series at 1-1 and took the edge overall at 57-56-14. The Rangers and Capitals will meet twice more in the next 21 days.
Jim Carey stopped 27 of 30 shots for the Capitals.
The Caps came roaring at the Rangers in the second period, trying to overcome Messier's first-period power play goal. They mucked along the boards and beat the Rangers to nearly every puck. They lived in the New York zone and, with 1:39 left in the period, it appeared Craig Berube had put the Caps on the scoreboard.
The big left wing came into the crease with the puck, and goalie Richter, Berube and the puck all appeared to land in the net at the same time. The goal judge turned on the red light -- but then turned it off again nearly as quickly.
They don't call Madison Square Garden "The Most Famous Arena in the World" for nothing.
By the time the officials arrived on the scene, the net was off the post and Richter had pulled the puck back across the goal line and was pointing at it.
"No goal," said the official, wiping out the equalizer.
Washington had had another great chance to score at 4:46, when Dale Hunter and Steve Konowalchuk broke out on a two-on-one. Hunter passed to Konowalchuk, who shot as Richter dived at the puck and took it in the stomach for a brilliant save.
It was the first of three beauties in a 50-second exchange that also saw him deny Keith Jones with a reflex save and Sylvain Cote with a darting left leg.
So, the Capitals went into the locker room still down a goal. It should be noted that, going into the game, the Rangers were 72-0-6 in their last 78 games when leading after the second period.
Of course, the Caps could take some solace in knowing the Rangers had been 11-0-0 when leading after the first period this season until Saturday, when Washington ruined that streak with a come-from-behind, 3-2 victory.
New York had five power plays against the Caps in Landover before finally scoring on their sixth opportunity. Last night, in the rematch, the Rangers didn't wait nearly so long.
When Washington put the Rangers on the power play with 3:32 gone in the opening period, Messier scored 29 seconds later off a rebound.
NOTES: This is the last week for NHL All-Star Game voting. The last chance for Capitals fans to cast votes will be Friday at USAir Arena, when the team takes on Edmonton. The All-Star Game will be played in Boston on Jan. 20.
Canadiens 3, Whalers 2
MONTREAL -- Mark Recchi scored two goals as Montreal raced to a three-goal lead and held on for the triumph over Hartford.
Hartford fell to 1-4-1 in its last six games as the Whalers made their final trip to the Forum. Hartford will meet the Canadiens in the new Molson Arena on March 20.
Recchi gathered in a rebound of his own shot and skated around the Hartford goal before putting the puck inside the right post for his ninth goal with 6:17 left in the first period.
Just 4:03 later, Mark Bureau's first of the season gave Montreal a 2-0 advantage. Bureau blasted a 20-foot slap shot from the left circle under the pads of goaltender Sean Burke.
Recchi slid a back-hander off a rebound of Pierre Turgeon's shot to the left of Burke as the Canadiens built a 3-0 cushion with 4:28 left in the second period.