NEW YORK -- Nineteen-year-old Russian rookie Alexei Kovalev circled to a position beside Washington Capitals goalie Don Beaupre and waited patiently for the puck.
It came with 4:04 to play. Mark Messier pushed the puck across the front of the net to Kovalev, and Beaupre stretched out to block the coming shot.
"I was very excited," Kovalev said through an interpreter. "I was afraid of shooting right away, so I decided to wait before I took the shot."
He waited until Beaupre landed on the ice and then lofted it over him into the net for a 2-1 New York Rangers victory.
"I was just lying there waving at it [the puck]," said Beaupre, who made 36 saves. "It was one of the longest nights. Last Saturday, we give up four goals on 20 shots and win. Tonight we give up two on 38 and lose. I'd rather have it the other way."
The Rangers led, 1-0, until late in the third period, but the Capitals continued to pick away at the New York defense and finally found a way around Rangers goalie Mike Richter.
The Caps' goal came with 8:21 to go, when Dale Hunter positioned himself near the right post and was in perfect position to redirect a shot by Calle Johansson into the net for a 1-1 tie.
The Caps are 3-4-0, and 0-4 in the Patrick Division, with the New York Islanders due at the Capital Centre tomorrow.
"It's disappointing not to win," said Caps coach Terry Murray. "I thought we could have gotten a lot more shots on goal, if we hadn't tried for the extra pass. We've got to start going to the net."
But in the end, it was a breakdown on the defensive end that did in the Caps. When the Caps and Rangers faced off in the right circle with less than four minutes to play, Kovalev was left wide open at the far post.
"The puck dropped behind a bunch of people near the net," said the Caps' Mike Ridley. "And everyone got picked off. I got picked, but I saw the puck going and I tried to reach it with my skate, but it bounced right to Kovalev. It was just barely out of my reach."
Murray was unhappy to see Kovalev wide open.
"You hate to give up a direct faceoff goal," Murray said. "Everyone man has a specific assignment on that play. But, unfortunately, they do happen. We've got to realize that every faceoff is the most important of the night for a man to be wide open on the side at that point in the game is a tough one."
In the closing minutes, Richter, who had 40 saves, withstood a series of shots by Michal Pivonka, Peter Bondra, Kelly Miller and Ridley. And Beaupre came up big against Kovalev with a little over four minutes left, but couldn't do it the second time.
It was only a matter of time before the Rangers' relentless attack paid off.
The moment came with 5:17 left in the second period, when Brian Leetch was able to beat Al Iafrate on the right side of the goal and get the puck out to left wing Jan Erixon, who was fending off Bondra. Erixon used a flick of his wrist to register his first goal of the season.
The Rangers went to the locker room after the second period knowing two things: They had not lost a game in which Erixon scored since Feb. 9, 1990; but they also knew that twice last year the Caps rallied from one-goal deficits with three third-period goals for the victory. It wasn't too far into the first period before Beaupre knew he'd have a busy night. Beaupre needed the intermission after facing 18 shots in the first 20 minutes.
The Caps, who had started to develop some chemistry in the last couple of games, shook up their lineup one more time. It was a change prompted by the return of defenseman Sylvain Cote and Pivonka.
Cote was playing for the first time this season, and Pivonka was back in the lineup for the first time since these teams last met, Oct. 10, when the Rangers won at the Capital Centre, 4-2.
NOTES: Pivonka, who had 23 goals last season, is still looking for his first goal. . . . Alan May, who has led the Caps in penalties each of the last three years, has none. . . . The Caps planned an afternoon workout today, in preparation for tomorrow's home game with New York Islanders. . . . Bondra, who leads the Caps in goal-scoring with five, is seventh in the NHL. . . .On Sunday, New York's Mike Gartner passed Stan Mikita into 10th place on the NHL's all-time goal scoring list with 542 goals. He is two goals shy of tying Maurice Richard for the ninth place.