The Rangers found the formula they used to grab a pair of wins in Washington last week on Wednesday night, getting a couple of fortunate bounces and timely saves to take a 2-1 victory and head down to D.C. with a chance to close out the series Friday night.
Washington couldn't quite match the urgency they displayed Monday night until after they fell behind by a pair of strange goals, and allowed the Rangers to take a 2-0 lead in the game's first 23 minutes. New York then sat back and blocked shots and dared the Caps to beat Henrik Lundqvist, and despite one bullet by Alex Ovechkin, they held.
The Capitals came out firing when down a pair in the third, and while Ovechkin got his first of the series early in the frame, Washington could draw no closer despite some good chances, including a pair of terrible penalties late by New York superpest Sean Avery.
Unlike Monday night, the Rangers were the team that came out flying out of the gates, outshooting Washington 11-9 for the first time in the opening stanza of the series and cashing on a fluky goal with 6:05 left to take the early lead.
Simeon Varlamov was strong early, stopping several good New York chances, with his best stopping Nikolai Zhedrev up close with 6:09 to play. Unfortunately, on the ensuing face off, Paul Mara's shot from the point redirected off John Erskine's stick past Varlomov to end the rookie's shutout streak at 126:17, and the Rangers had a 1-0 lead with just over six minutes to play.
Sergei Fedorov nearly evened the score with around four minutes left in the period, hitting the crossbar on an Ovechkin drop pass, but New York took a 1-0 lead to the dressing room.
The second period also saw another fluky tally go the Rangers' way, as Varlamov mishandled a weak Chris Drury shot from the point, bobbling the puck and losing it to Drury. The veteran forward, who can barely shoot the puck with much force, lofted it over his pad for a 2-0 Rangers lead 2:23 into the middle frame.
The Caps then pressed trailing by a pair of goals, but Lundqvist made a couple of nice saves, including one on Alexander Semin, but Washington couldn't get on the board.
With a couple of power plays late in the period, Washington poured on the shots later in the period, but couldn't beat the All-Star netminder and went into the dressing room down 2-0 despite outginning New York 19-5 in the middle frame.
After a slow start to the third, Alex Ovechkin finally got on the board in the series 2:13 into the period, taking the puck from a face off and rifling the puck past Derek Morris and Lundqvist to pull the Capitals within one.
Scott Gomez nearly scored to restore the two-goal lead on the next shift, but missed a good chance on Varlamov.
But the Caps started to turn up the heat down by just one, and they got a great chance to draw even when Sean Avery was whistled for hitting Milan Jurcina on an icing call and got tagged with a roughing call with 9:39 to play in regulation.
While Ovechkin got the best chance by hitting the post halfway through the extra-man advantage, the Rangers held the Caps off the board. Semin didn't help matters when he took a tripping penalty right after Avery was freed from the box, as time began to wind down on the Caps.
The Capitals killed off the penalty, but Lundqvist stopped another great Ovechkin chance with 5:13 left in the period.
However, Avery gave the Capitals another golden chance for the equalizer with 3:06 to play by taking a high sticking minor on Brian Pother in front of the Capitals' net, but the Caps couldn't cash in and ended up coming up short for their third one-goal loss of the series.
For the second straight year, the Capitals head into Game 5 at home down 3-1 in a playoff series, and will look to stave off elimination in front of the home crowd. Last year, Washington was able to win two straight facing elimination against Philadelphia before falling in overtime of Game 7, and now they will look to do one better this year.
New York, who took a 3-1 lead into New Jersey last year in the first round after losing Game 3 and winning Game 4 at the Garden, will look to close out the series in five games for the second straight year.