LANDOVER -- Terry Murray couldn't help himself last night.
He kept using the word "great" in describing the way his Washington Capitals played against the New York Rangers in an impressive 6-2 Patrick Division victory before a sellout crowd of 18,130 at the Capital Centre.
Murray could be excused for his enthusiasm because it has been a while since the Capitals have put it all together, but they did it in an important division game.
Washington, 2-4-1 in seven games before last night, would have fallen 10 points behind the streaking Rangers with a loss.
Instead, the second-place Capitals closed within six points of first-place New York which was 7-0-1 before taking on the Capitals.
Peter Bondra, celebrating his 24th birthday, led the Washington attack with two goals and two assists and helped send a message to the Rangers that the Capitals were not ready to fold their tent in the Patrick Division race.
Michal Pivonka had four assists for the Capitals and announced that his team was still in the hunt.
"We're still playing for first place in our division," said Pivonka. "We've been a .500 team (14-14-4) since our great start (17-5) and know we have to turn it around right now."
Bondra said he wouldn't be able to celebrate his birthday -- or the two goals -- because he would have to be at practice today.
"It doesn't matter that I scored the goals or have a birthday, I still have to practice," said Bondra. "Everybody played hard for us tonight and I went out there in a good mood and got two goals."
Bondra and company charged back after New York gained a 1-lead on a goal by Mark Messier with just 19 seconds gone in the game
Bondra, Kelly Miller and Mike Lalor scored consecutive goals tpush the Capitals ahead 3-1 at the end of the first period, and John Druce and Bondra ran the lead to 5-1 with third-period goals.
That was enough to finish off the Rangers who had stunned thCapitals the last time the two teams met, scoring seven straight goals for an 8-6 victory at the Capital Centre Dec. 26.
Murray insisted that the victory was not a message for thRangers. Instead, he said, it was the Capitals who got the message.
"We need to be the team we were in the first half," Murray said. "We're a close team and the guys get along with each other. There's a special closeness between these guys, but we got a little away from it for a while. We have to give the puck up when we're 5 feet away from a guy."
Murray said the most impressive part of the victory was the intensity of the Washington penalty-killing unit.
The Capitals killed all seven New York power plays, including a five-on-three Rangers advantage in the first period when Washington was clinging to a 2-1 lead.
"That was probably the best penalty killing we've played this season," said Murray. "I'm not saying we're back yet but we're starting to get back to the way we played in the first half."
Mike Ridley finished off the Washington scoring last night with a short-handed goal with three seconds left in the game.
Bondra's second goal of the night came on a power play after the Capitals had failed to score on seven man-up opportunities in the game.
New York had not allowed a goal in their last 28 times short-handed on the road before Bondra scored on the power play.
Rangers right wing Mike Gartner said: "They outplayed us tonight. We didn't work hard enough through the 60 minutes to win and they did."
NY Rangers 1 0 1 -- 2
Washington 3 0 3 -- 6
First period--1, New York, Messier 24 (Amonte, Graves), :19. 2, Washington, Bondra 19 (Iafrate, Pivonka), 2:40. 3, Washington, Miller 10 (Langway, Khristich), 7:09. 4, Washington, Lalor 5 (Bondra, Pivonka), 15:12. Penalties--Broten, NY (interference), 3:00; Lalor, Was (tripping), 8:04; Iafrate, Was (slashing), 9:05; Druce, Was (holding), 12:37; Broten, NY (interference), 16:12.
Second period--None. Penalties--Graves, NY (charging), :45; Krygier, Was (hooking), 5:04; Messier, NY (interference), 10:23; Djoos, NY (holding), 14:19; Ridley, Was (cross-checking) 18:03.
Third period--5, Washington, Druce 10 (Pivonka, Bondra), 1:16. 6, Washington, Bondra 20 (Pivonka, Iafrate), 14:02 (pp). 7, New York, Amonte 21 (Graves, Patrick), 17:12. 8, Washington, Ridley 19 (Hatcher, Langway), 19:57 (sh-en). Penalties--Domi, NY (charging), 4:01; Amonte, NY (holding), 7:35; Iafrate, Was (roughing), 8:23; Djoos, NY (slashing), 13:29; Domi, NY, major (fighting), 15:13; May, Was, major (fighting), 15:13; Cote, Was (cross-checking), 18:45.
Shots on goal--New York 9-4-13--26. Washington 9-11-7--27. Power-play opportunities--New York 0 of 7; Washington 1 of 8. Goalies--New York, Vanbiesbrouck, 17-11-0 (26 shots-21 saves). Washington, Beaupre, 18-11-2 (26-24). A--18,130. Referee--Terry Gregson. Linesmen--Gord Broseker,