NEW YORK (AP) — Alex Ovechkin silenced the Madison Square Garden crowd that has been taunting him for two games.
If he can fire up the fans back at home, too, the Washington Capitals could be in store for a deep playoff run.
Ovechkin scored a power-play goal with 7:27 remaining to snap a tie and gave the Capitals a 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers that squared the Eastern Conference semifinal series 1-1 on Monday night.
Just under 6 minutes after Ryan Callahan got the Rangers even with a power-play goal, Ovechkin put the Capitals ahead for good after they squandered a 2-0 lead.
Whether Ovechkin heard the derisive chants that greeted him every time there were 8 minutes left — matching his uniform number — in each period or not, they certainly didn’t knock him off his game.
Despite diminished minutes in the playoffs, Ovechkin is still every bit as dangerous during crunch time.
“Ovi is a team guy and he is cheering his guys on,” Capitals coach Dale Hunter said. “He knows what these guys are going through at the end of the game. They’ve got to go out and slide and block shots. He appreciates that.
“The one thing is that he has been real fresh for the power play.”
Mike Knuble and Jason Chimera scored first-period goals for the Capitals, who will host the next two games of the series. Washington is trying to repeat its first-round feat when it lost the series opener but rallied to beat Boston in seven games. The Capitals have earned four of their five wins in this postseason on the road, but are only 1-2 at home.
“We probably weren’t very fond of our home games against Boston. That’s one thing that we want to improve on,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “I’m very confident in our group here, and I confident that I will be there to back them up.”
Brad Richards had a goal and assist, and defenseman Michael Del Zotto had two assists for the top-seeded Rangers, who got forward Brian Boyle back from a three-game injury absence but couldn’t turn it into a commanding lead in the series.
New York rebounded from a 14-shot performance in its series-opening win and fired 28 shots on Holtby. But the increase in numbers produced fewer results.
Henrik Lundqvist, who allowed two goals or fewer in six of the previous eight games and four straight, made 22 saves for the Rangers. New York had won three straight games, dating to the first round against Ottawa when Boyle sustained a concussion.
New York killed a penalty against Boyle moments after Callahan’s tying goal at 6:58, but Ovechkin struck off a clean faceoff win by Nicklas Backstrom during another power play. With Richards in the penalty box for holding, Ovechkin fired a shot from inside the blue line past Lundqvist.
“First I saw it, then I didn’t see it, and then I saw it,” Lundqvist said. “It was a hard shot. It was a good shot. Unfortunately, someone got tied up and he got a free lane. It’s the wrong guy to get that opportunity.”
Ovechkin was also surprised to find room to maneuver.
“Nicky wins the faceoff, and I kind of turned and felt like I was going to have some pressure,” he said, “but when I turned, I saw that nobody came to me.”
Agitated Rangers coach John Tortorella first lamented the numerous mistakes by his club that led to goals and then the costly late power play that decided the game.
“You fight back to tie the game as hard as we did, you can’t take four minutes in penalties,” Tortorella said.
The Rangers’ much-maligned power play got New York into a 2-2 tie 56 seconds after Knuble was sent off for high-sticking. New York worked the puck around the Washington zone several times for drives by Del Zotto. The defenseman dropped down from the blue line to the right circle and let go a shot that worked its way through. It struck Capitals defenseman John Carlson and Callahan before getting by Holtby.
Del Zotto, who also hit the post with a shot earlier in the period, fired a drive off the crossbar in the final minute that nearly got the Rangers even again.
“He was flying out there,” fellow defenseman Marc Staal said. “He was making things happen.”
After a close-to-the-vest opener, the offenses busted out in the first period — nearly matching the goal and shot totals from the Rangers’ Game 1 victory. The teams combined for four goals and 32 shots, only 14 by New York, in the Rangers’ 3-1 victory.
Now it’s a best-of-five with three games scheduled for Washington. The Rangers also won the first-round opener against Ottawa, dropped Game 2 at home, and rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to win in seven.
The Capitals eliminated the Rangers from the playoffs last year and in 2009.
“It’s going to be tough, that’s for sure,” Lundqvist said. “They’re a good team, and we’re not expecting this to be easy. It’s going to be a challenge to go into their building and try to get a couple of wins.”
The Capitals took their first lead of the series 12:20 in when Washington took advantage of a Rangers turnover in the offensive zone. Stu Bickel’s pass was intercepted by Joel Ward at the blue line and he raced with the puck up ice. He sent a pass to the middle of the New York zone to Keith Aucoin, who quickly returned it to Ward.
Without any hesitation, Ward moved the puck to his right to Knuble, who scored his second of the playoffs into the right side of the net.
A bigger mistake directly led to Washington’s second goal 4:54 later.
Shortly after Rangers rookie sensation Chris Kreider was stopped on a breakaway attempt when he left the penalty box, Washington doubled its lead.
Lundqvist went behind his net to play the puck, but gave it up when pressured by Chimera. Chimera, who scored the Capitals’ lone goal in Game 1, pushed the puck in front to Matt Hendricks, who tried to score into the vacated net with his back turned to it.
Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman dove in the crease to try to block the shot, and was hit in the mouth with a stick. The puck trickled to the outside of the right post, but was banked in by Chimera off the skate of New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh to make it 2-0.
“Can’t give things for free,” Tortorella said. “We gave too many things for free.”
Outside of New York’s 2-0 loss to Ottawa in Game 5 of the first round when the Senators scored a late empty-net goal, the Rangers hadn’t trailed by more than one goal in these playoffs.
Thanks to Richards’ goal with 42.4 seconds left in the first period, that deficit didn’t last long.
Del Zotto made a pass from the left point down to the lower right circle to Marian Gaborik, who patiently waited and then quickly made a pass left to Richards, who scored his fourth of the playoffs into the open left side before Holtby could get across to cover it.
Neither team could score in the second period, when the Rangers held an 8-6 shots advantage after they were outshot 12-10 in the first.
New York nearly tied the game less than 5 minutes into the second when a crisp passing play between Staal and Artem Anisimov got Mike Rupp free in front of Holtby. Rupp shifted from forehand to backhand and put a shot on goal that Holtby smothered.
The Capitals had a golden chance, too, when a shot by Ovechkin trickled behind Lundqvist and rolled on its edge across the crease. Lundqvist fell back on it as players from both teams converged on him.
NOTES: Chimera has scored in three straight playoff games at Madison Square Garden, including his overtime tally last year that won Game 4 of the first round for Washington. He has six career playoff goals, four against the Rangers. … Both teams used their timeout in the second period to give players a rest following icing calls. … Rangers coach John Tortorella was named as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, given to the NHL coach of the year.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)