Special teams carry Rangers to a Game 3 win and a 3-0 series lead on the Capitals

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nothing seems to be able to knock the New York Rangers off their game, certainly not giving up a fluky bounce goal five minutes in or having seven penalties called on them.

Again they responded to whatever the Washington Capitals threw at them, and now they’re one win away from the second round.

Vincent Trocheck had a power-play goal and a short-handed assist, Igor Shesterkin made 27 saves and the Rangers beat the Capitals 3-1 in Game 3 Friday night, taking a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series. They can advance with a victory in Game 4 Sunday night.

“We play really good,” Shesterkin said. “But we need to win one more game, and we focus on the next one.”

The Rangers scored goals at even-strength 5 on 5, up 5 on 4 and down 4 on 5 in a special teams showcase from the Presidents’ Trophy winners who finished atop the NHL regular season in part because of their potent power play. Trocheck set up Barclay Goodrow short-handed and scored on the power play, while Chris Kreider tipped the puck in for his franchise-best 42nd career playoff goal.

At the other end of the rink, Shesterkin looked like his 2022 Vezina Trophy-winning self, robbing Max Pacioretty alone in front with a right pad stop and turning away Alex Ovechkin, who remains without a point this postseason. Shesterkin was perfect after allowing John Carlson to score on a fluttering shot off Mika Zibandjad’s stick just over five minutes in.

“Shesty was obviously spectacular again,” Trocheck said. “He’s a spectacular goaltender. We need him to be the backbone of this team. He’s been doing it for years now.”

A major reason for the Rangers pushing the Capitals to the brink of elimination is that they only trailed in this one for 34 seconds until Kreider tied it. Goodrow’s goal put them ahead exactly 2 minutes later, and they led the rest of the way through some choppy play and a handful of penalties called on either side.

Following up on what they did back home at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, the Rangers scored short-handed goals in consecutive playoff games for the first time since April 1990.

“I actually thought there could have been a few more,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “We’ve been fortunate to cash in on that.”

Washington, which was trying to keep play at 5 on 5 as much as possible to better even out a series New York had the chance to dominate, again failed to do so. Nearly a third of the game (18:31) was special teams, which plays into the Rangers’ favor.

It also made life difficult on goaltender Charlie Lindgren, who despite a handful of crucial stops allowed three goals on 22 shots. Lindgren, who carried the Capitals into the playoffs by shouldering the load down the stretch, has been unable to get into any kind of a rhythm to perform the same heroics and make this a series.

“Throughout the series so far, they’ve come up with the big moments, whether that’s answering, whether that’s coming up with the next one, stuff like that,” said Washington defenseman John Carlson, who played a game-high 30 minutes and change. “It’s disappointing.”

Injuries haven’t helped the Caps, who were again without two of their top four defensemen: Nick Jensen and Rasmus Sandin. They lost another midway through the first period when Trevor van Riemsdyk was hit up high by Rangers rookie Matt Rempe, who could face another disciplinary hearing six weeks after being suspended four games in March for an illegal check to the head.

“That was a dirty hit,” Capitals center Nic Dowd said. “I think a player took advantage of another player in a vulnerable spot. You’re obviously hoping Riems is all right.”

UP NEXT

A Rangers win in Game 4 would send them to the second round, where they’d face the Carolina Hurricanes barring them collapsing up 3-0 on the New York Islanders.

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL

DC-based hockey writer covering NHL, Capitals and Commanders