NEW YORK -- A two-goal lead squandered and time dwindling in the third period, the Washington Capitals appeared destined for another crushing loss to the New York Rangers, a team that has vexed them in recent years.
Instead, the NHL's top team responded like, well, the NHL's top team.
Center Nicklas Backstrom tied the game with 5.7 seconds remaining, which set the stage for left winger Alex Ovechkin to win it in overtime with his 499th career goal as the Capitals emerged with a stirring 4-3 victory at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon.
The Capitals entered the third period with a 2-0 lead but goals from left wingers Oscar Lindberg and Viktor Stalberg and center Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead with 6:49 to play. Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh had a chance to push the lead to 4-2 with a little less than four minutes remaining but missed the net after taking a pass on a 2-on-1 rush with left winger Rick Nash.
Ovechkin's winner and second of the game was the conclusion of a wild sequence. Nash was denied off an offensive-zone faceoff, then center Derek Stepan had his rebound chance stopped by the stick of Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt. Ovechkin gathered the puck and proceeded to skate the length of the ice before beating goaltender Henrik Lundqvist with a shot through the legs of McDonagh.
"We're confident with any group we throw out there," Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby said. "Schmidt stuck with the play and made a game-saver. Those kinds of plays, if you're a confident group, those plays happen."
"We got the lead but made a couple mistakes," Ovechkin said. "They're a good team; they know how to come back, especially with the crowd pushing them. I think we deserved at least a point today and we got two."
Ovechkin will attempt to become the first Russian and fifth-fastest to score 500 goals when the Capitals host the Ottawa Senators on Sunday.
"Our fans have supported him for so long and they've seen a lot of his goals and a lot of his celebrations," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "It would only be fitting if he could get it done at home."
The Capitals (31-7-3) are 19-2-2 in their past 23 games and running away with the Eastern Conference as they reach the halfway point of the season.
The Rangers (22-14-5) are 16 points behind the Capitals and looking for reasons to feel good about themselves with just six wins since the end of November.
Despite the outcome, the Rangers may be headed in the right direction.
"This is more about taking a step forward as a team," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "We battled back from a two-goal deficit against one of the best defensive teams in the league and one of the goaltenders who has made it hard on a lot of teams."
The Capitals jumped to a 2-0 lead on a pair of odd goals.
Ovechkin scored in the final seconds of the first period as Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi passed the puck from behind his net and into the slot. Ovechkin intercepted and scored into a gaping net to make it 1-0 with his 498th career goal.
Right winger Justin Williams, who assisted on Backstrom's tying goal, scored a strange one early in the second period. William's initial attempt on a breakaway in the skate of Lundqvist, then the post, then bounced off the inside of Lundqvist's right leg and slithered across the goal line to make it 2-0 Capitals.
The Rangers made their push and, if not for Schmidt's quick stick in overtime, they would have left the building with two points instead of one.
"We felt we did a lot of good things in the first two periods and we knew that this game was far from over with 20 minutes of hockey left and down two goals," Stepan said. "We played a great game, a great third period and just come out on the other end."
"It's nice that we stayed calm and never gave up," Backstrom said. "We were lucky to get two (points)."
NOTES: Capitals C Marcus Johansson was suspended two games for a hit on Islanders D Thomas Hickey on Thursday. Despite the evidence, Capitals coach Barry Trotz felt it was a "legal hit." ... Newly signed C Mike Richards was not in the lineup. ... Capitals C Paul Carey was recalled from the AHL on Friday and was in the lineup. ... Rangers LW Chris Kreider (hand) remained out and has not played since Jan. 2 ... Rangers D Dylan McIrath was a healthy scratch.