Washington Capitals Versus New York Rangers – Looking Back At Their Past Opening Day Matchups

Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images

It’s finally here. Opening night for the 2021-22 NHL season is upon us, with the Rangers coming into Washington, DC to play the Capitals on Wednesday.

It’s not the first time the two teams have met on opening night, but it will be the first time the two teams have played their season opener at the Capitals’ home arena. Every other time the two teams have met at Madison Square Garden. Here is a recap of the previous opening night games between the Capitals and the Rangers.

October 9, 1974 – Madison Square Garden

The Washington Capitals faced the New York Rangers in their very first game, ever, not counting preseason games. Jim Hrycuik, who celebrated his 25th birthday just two days earlier, scored the very first goal of the game and the very first goal in franchise history, staking the Capitals to a 1-0 lead. But then Greg Polis tied the game for the Rangers.

Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images

About midway through second period, Ron Anderson scored a power play goal for the Caps to give them back the lead. But Brad Park of the Rangers tied the game at 2-2 soon afterwards on a power play.

During the third period, the Rangers took the lead early. Fortunately for the Caps, Dave Kryskow tied the game up soon after. Unfortunately the Rangers would score three unanswered goals and ultimately win the game, 6-3.

The Capitals went on to post a record of 8-67-5 during the 1974-75 season for just 21 points, which still stands as the worst NHL record ever.

Box Score of Game From Hockey Reference for 10/9/1974

Further Reading for Game of 10/9/1974
Capital History: Opening Night Oct 9, 1974
New York Times: Rangers Triumph Over Capitals 6-3; Rangers Rally to Beat Capitals
The First Night: Looking Back At the Capitals’ First Regular Season Game
Washington Post: DC Sports Bog: Here’s How the Post Covered the First Caps Game

October 6, 1982 – Madison Square Garden

The Capitals and Rangers met again on opening night nearly eight years later, once again at Madison Square Garden. The Caps were no longer the futile expansion team they had been back in 1974-75, but still had yet to qualify for the playoffs.

This season opener was mostly noted for being the first game in which Rod Langway and Craig Laughlin played for the Capitals after being obtained in a blockbuster trade with the Montreal Canadiens prior to the season.

Mark Pavelich of the Rangers, who played on the Miracle on Ice Gold Medal USA Olympic team, scored the first goal of the game in the first period.  The Caps evened up the score at 1-1 when Vaclav Nedomansky scored a power play goal.

Photo: Ron Frehm/Associated Press

The second period was very good for the Capitals as Ted Bulley, Bobby Carpenter, and Scott Stevens each scored goals to make the score 3-2 in favor of the Caps after two periods. The goal by Stevens was the first of his NHL career.

The Rangers tied the score early in third period when Eddie Johnstone scored a short handed goal. The Rangers then took a 4-3 lead when Don Maloney scored on a power play. But then Milan Novy soon tallied for the Caps and the score was now tied at 4-4.  Mike Gartner scored the game-winning goal with less than two minutes to go in the game. The final score was 5-4, in favor of the Caps.

Box Score of Game From Hockey Reference for 10/6/1982

The Caps went on to finish with a 39-25-16 record, a third place finish in the Patrick Division and finally made the playoffs for the first time in their history.

Further Reading for Game of 10/6/1982

NHL: This Date in Caps History: October 6, 1982
Washington Post: Game Preview for Opener
New York Times: Rangers Beaten in Opener by Late Goal
Washington Post: Capitals Get Flying Start 5-4

October 10, 1985 – Madison Square Garden

This Opener also took place at Madison Square Garden, just like the previous two opening night games between the Caps and the Rangers. Déjà vu was in effect from the start. Just like in the opener from three years earlier, Mark Pavelich scored the first goal of the game during the first period for the Rangers. Also, similar to the game of three years earlier, the Caps evened up the score at 1-1 on a power play. This time it was Bengt-Ake Gustafsson with the tally.

During the second period, Dave Gagner gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead, which was the score going into second intermission. The Rangers added their third goal of the game during the third period when Mike Ridley, a future Capital, scored his first NHL goal. Bengt-Ake Gustafsson scored a second power play goal of the game nearly two minutes later to decrease the deficit to 3-2. However, Bob Brooke scored an empty net goal as the final score was 4-2 in favor of the Rangers.

Box Score of Game From Hockey Reference for 10/10/1985

The Caps lost their next two games but eventually turned their season around. Their final record for the season wad 50-23-7 and advanced to the second round of the NHL playoffs.

Further Reading for Game of 10/10/1985
Washington Post: Capitals Open With 4-2 Loss
Washington Post: Opening Night Preview
New York Times: Rangers Triumph by Being Intense 

 October 5, 2006 – Madison Square Garden

It was 21 years before the Caps and Rangers would meet again on opening night. Like the prior three openers, the matchup was held at Madison Square Garden on Broadway. In this game, Jaromir Jagr opened the scoring for the Rangers 30 seconds into the contest.

Alexander Semin got the equalizer nearly three minutes into second period.  Unfortunately for the Caps, two players on the Rangers scored later in the period: Blair Betts and Brendan Shanahan. The score was now 3-1 in favor of the Rangers.

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Shanahan scored his second goal of the game early in the third period, increasing the Rangers’ lead to 4-1. Near the end of the game, Rico Fata scored for the Caps when they had an extra attacker and the score was now 4-2. However, Martin Straka scored an empty net goal for the Rangers. The final score was 5-2 Rangers.

Box Score of Game From Hockey Reference For 10/6/2006

The Caps ultimately went 28-40-14 for the season, earning 70 points. They were still in rebuild mode.

Further Reading for Game of 10/5/2006
ESPN Game Recap
New York Times: Game Recap
Getty Images: Pictures from Washington Capitals vs New York Rangers October 5, 2006

Below is video for the game.

Next week’s opener for the 2021-22 season will be the fifth opening night matchup between the Capitals and the Rangers and the first one not taking in Madison Square Garden. The Caps have compiled a 1-3 record against the Rangers on opening night.

It is a much anticipated matchup, considering the events that took place during their last two regular season contests, which included fights, and the aftermath which resulted in personnel changes for the Rangers.

Further Reading
We Are Extremely Disappointed” New York Rangers Release Statement Condemning NHL For Not Suspending Capitals’ Tom Wilson for “Horrifying Act of Violence”
Former Rangers’ GM Jeff Gorton On Incident Between Artemi Panarin, Capitals’ Tom Wilson: ‘I Didn’t Think That Night Was Going To Be What It Turned Into”
Rangers Acquire Ryan Reaves From Golden Knights For 2022 Third-Round Pick
Rangers’ Pavel Buchnevich Suspended One Game For High-Sticking Capitals’ Anthony Mantha
Brawl On Broadway Part II: Capitals, Rangers Drop The Gloves One Second Into Chaotic First Period
Lars Eller on Capitals’ Monday Scrum with Rangers: “I Could Find You Several Clips Of Similar Situations. It Happens Frequently, But It’s Not Being Put Into Context In This Situation”;
Capitals’ Tom Wilson Fined $5,000 For Roughing Rangers’ Pavel Buchnevich In Monday’s

by Diane Doyle



About Diane Doyle

Been a Caps fan since November 1975 when attending a game with my then boyfriend and now husband.
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1 Response to Washington Capitals Versus New York Rangers – Looking Back At Their Past Opening Day Matchups

  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s about time they open in DC!

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