The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers have had numerous memorable matchups, with many of them have renowned for physical play. The game of February 22, 1991 that took place at the Capital Center was no different.
Going into the game, the New York Rangers were on top of the Patrick Division with a 31-21-10 record, but were winless in their last two games. The Capitals had a record of 27-31-3 and were in fifth place in the Patrick Division, four points behind the New Jersey Devils in a fight for the last playoff position in the division.
Personnel-wise, Capitals’ defenseman and team Captain Rod Langway was returning to the lineup after missing 17 games due to back spasms. He returned to the lineup not because he was fully healthy but because the team was in a precarious position with regards to making the playoffs. Also, right wing John Kordic was returning to the lineup after missing the recent road trip due to being hospitalized for alcohol-abuse treatment.
Right winger, Peter Bondra, would not play due to a dislocated shoulder while winger Dimitri Khristich would also not play due to a hip pointer.
The Rangers would be without winger Bernie Nicholls who was serving a three-game suspension for an incident against Montreal on February 9.
The goaltending matchup for the game was Don Beaupre for the Capitals and John Vanbiesbrouck for the Rangers. The game drew a sellout crowd of 18,130.
The early portion of the game featured minor penalties, two by the Capitals and two by the Rangers, but neither team scored on the ensuing power plays. Mike Gartner, who the Capitals traded to the Rangers at the trade deadline just two seasons earlier, scored his 35th goal of the season at 16:56, putting the Rangers ahead 1-0.
Gartner was standing at the right post. Turcotte passed the puck across the crease from the left circle to Gartner who shot the puck into the open side of the goal. Kris King got the secondary assist.
Exactly one minute after the Gartner goal, John Kordic got into a fight with Tie Domi.
The Capitals outshot the Rangers 13-6 during first period but the score remained 1-0 in favor of the Rangers going into first intermission.
Dale Hunter was penalized for boarding just 40 seconds into second period. Fortunately, the Capitals were able to kill that penalty. 16 seconds after that penalty expired, at 2:56, Dave Tippett, who was at the top of the right circle, scored his fifth goal of the season by firing a slapshot past Vanbiesbrouck to tie the score at 1-1.
Soon after that, Kordic and Domi got into another scrap which resulted in Kordic earning a high sticking penalty, Domi earning a roughing penalty, and Kordic getting assessed a misconduct penalty.
The Rangers took the lead again at 11:24 when Mark Janssens scored his seventh goal of the season. This goal came just eight seconds after the Capitals successfully killed-off a hooking penalty to Al Iafrate. Jenssens got assists from Brian Leetch and James Patrick.
At 12:25, Al Iafrate and Troy Mallette of the Rangers got in a tussle where Mallette were assessed for tripping and both players also earned roughing and misconduct penalties. It put the Capitals on a power play where they did not convert.
The Capitals finally tied the score with 32 seconds to go in the period. Dino Ciccarelli, whom the Capitals acquired two years earlier in the Mike Gartner deal, scored his 20th goal of the season. He was assisted by defenseman Calle Johansson. The score was tied at 2-2 after a very penalty-filled second period that featured 36 penalty minutes for the Capitals and 20 penalty minutes for the Rangers.
The Rangers took two high-sticking penalties to start-off the third period, one by Randy Moller at 2:19 and one by David Shaw at 4:12, but the Capitals were unable to score on either.
But just eight seconds after that power player expired, Mikhail Tatarinov took a shot from the top of the right circle. Ridley then knocked the rebound of Tatarinov’s shot past Vanbiesbrouck. Ciccarelli had screened Vanbiesbrouck. This put the Caps ahead 3-2 and held up as the game winner.
This win snapped the Capitals’ losing streak at three games. It was their second victory in six games against the Rangers and kept them three points behind the New Jersey Devils in the Patrick Division playoff race.
Capitals’ head coach Terry Murray praised Don Beaupre who made 28 saves that night, “Beaupre played a very big game for us. He made some very important saves. [Darren] Turcotte fired one of his patented slap shots at Beaupre and he made a great save. That was a key stop.”
Murray said: “We are battling to get back into the Patrick Division race, and to say the least, it was a very big win. I was extremely pleased at the play of our special teams, especially our penalty-killing unit. And Rod Langway [who returned after missing 17 games with back problems] contributed in a very big way.”
“We seem to play better against the better teams in the league, especially at home. We needed the win tonight, and when you lose in a game like this, there is no excuse. We did what we had to tonight,” said Capitals netminder Beaupre.
“We looked at stopping [James] Patrick and Leetch on New York’s power play,” said Tippett. “They set up everything from the points. We also pressured New York all over the ice and tried to minimize the time they had control of the puck so that they didn’t have time to make any great plays.”
It turned out that Capitals’ goalie Don Beaupre was injured in this game. The Capitals brought-up goalie Jim Hrivnak from their farm team, the Baltimore Skipjacks, who played in their next game.
The Capitals ultimately made the playoffs, finishing third in the Patrick Division. The Rangers ultimately fell to second place in the Patrick Division before the end of the season. Thus, the Capitals and Rangers met in the first round of the playoffs. The Capitals advanced past the Rangers in the first round only to fall to the Penguins in the second round.
By Diane Doyle
Hockey Reference: Box Score of Capitals/Rangers 2/22/1991
UPI: Game Story of 2/22/1991: Capitals 3 Rangers 2
Washington Post: 2/22/1991 — Game Preview
Baltimore Sun: Game Preview Feb 22, 1991
Baltimore Sun: Game Story
New York Times: Pro Hockey Rangers Are Overcome by Capitals Comebacks
UPI: 2/23/1991 — Capitals Netminder Out With-injury
Hockey Fights: John Kordic vs Tie Domi
Washington Post — Beaupre Sidelined by Injury