By Julian Linden
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two hours without a goal, two games without a win, the New York Rangers' faithful must have feared their NHL playoff campaign had "early exit" written all over it.
On Monday, against a Washington Capitals team in full flight, the Rangers rediscovered the way to win, taking a 4-3 victory at Madison Square Garden to narrow the deficit in the Eastern Conference first round playoff series to 2-1.
Game Three in the best-of-seven series got off to a bad start for the Rangers, however, Nicklas Backstrom giving the Capitals a 1-0 lead with four minutes on the clock.
Brian Boyle equalized midway through the first period before Derick Brassard scored early in the second to put the Rangers 2-1 up.
The boisterous home crowd roared with excitement but the knockout blow was still a long way off. The Capitals drew level at 2-2 late in the second, then again at 3-3 in the final period, Arron Asham's goal canceled out by the Caps' Jay Beagle.
It took a fourth goal, late in the final period, from Derek Stepan to decide the outcome as the Rangers proved to their fans they had the stomach for the fight.
"As I've said all along, it's a good group of guys," Rangers head coach John Tortorella told a news conference. "It's just trying to get momentum on your side and finding a way to win the hockey game and we got it done tonight."
No player personified the Rangers' fighting spirit more than Marc Staal, who played his first game in two months since being struck near the eye with a puck.
The defenseman still has some blurred vision but was back in the fray on Monday.
"I thought I would be more nervous that I was," he said. "I felt pretty good going to the game and I think the confidence is going to grow the more I'm out there."
For the Rangers' Swedish netminder, Henrik Lundqvist, it was a deserved win after a frustrating series.
Last season's Vezina Trophy recipient as goalie of the year, Lundqvist stopped the first 37 shots the Capitals fired at his net in Game 2 on the weekend. The 38th got past him and Washington won 1-0 in overtime.
On Monday, he was again under enormous pressure as the Capitals launched waves of attacks at him.
He made 28 of 31 saves but was on the winner's side this time. "We knew we had to win this one, we really stepped it up as a group," he said.
"The key in the playoffs is to stay balanced and not get too excited or too disappointed when things go against you."