NEW YORK - As if the Washington Capitals needed any more help while streaking through the NHL schedule, when they go for win No. 13 in a row against Atlanta, they won't even have to face Ilya Kovalchuk.
On the night Kovalchuk was dealt from the Thrashers to the New Jersey Devils, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and the rest of NHL-leading Capitals pulled out a 6-5 back-and-forth win over the New York Rangers on Thursday.
Backstrom's third-period, power-play goal - his fifth point of the night - snapped a tie and put the Capitals ahead for good. Washington will return home on Friday night to face Southeast Division-rival Atlanta, a playoff-hopeful club that suddenly is without the biggest star in franchise history.
"It's still another game to win," said Mike Knuble, who had a goal and an assist while on a line with Ovechkin and Backstrom. "They might be a little bit out of sorts with a big deal happening."
Everything seems to be clicking just fine for the Capitals, who haven't lost since Jan. 12 at Tampa Bay and have outscored opponents 57-27 in the franchise-record streak.
Backstrom already had four assists when he got to a loose puck near the left circle and snapped in his 24th goal to make it 6-5 at 5:34 of the third. Washington scored three goals on the power play to offset a season-high four man-advantage goals by the Rangers.
Ovechkin had two goals and an assist to reach 500 NHL points. He is the fifth player to achieve the milestone in five seasons, doing it in only 373 games.
"We're pretty confident. There is a good atmosphere in the locker room," Ovechkin said. "This team is playing good right now and we feel good about ourselves. If I don't play well, a different guy steps up. We play for each other."
Boyd Gordon and defenceman Tom Poti added goals for the Capitals. It was Backstrom's second five-point game this season.
New York returned home from a 1-2 Western trip, but couldn't turn its best offensive output in eight games into a win. Vinny Prospal had two goals, and newly acquired forward Olli Jokinen, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ryan Callahan also put pucks past Jose Theodore. The Rangers lost in regulation for the seventh time in eight games and have slipped below the post-season cutoff in the Eastern Conference.
"It's easy to start questioning your game when you let in six goals, but I don't think I played that bad," goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "It was just a really tough game. They find ways to create big scoring chances. They don't shoot that much, but they find openings."
Leading scorer Marian Gaborik had two assists, as did Jokinen and Prospal for New York. But Jokinen was also called for three penalties, including a hooking call against Poti that led to Backstrom's winner.
"It's disappointing," Jokinen said. "We've got to find a way to stay out of the penalty box. That was the difference. Our power play was good. We scored five goals at home. We should be able to win.
"Everybody knows where we're at in the standings. We've got to treat every game like a playoff game."
The Capitals (39-12-6), who lead the NHL in scoring, erased deficits of 1-0, 2-1, and 5-3. They held on with the help of three power plays in the final 11 minutes.
"Even though they took a lead, we knew we would score," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Lundqvist didn't look as sharp as he has against us in the past."
The Rangers carried play in the first period and took a 1-0 lead at 8:58 when Callahan tipped in a shot by Jokinen, snapping New York's 0 for 25 power-play slump over seven games. Gordon tied it with 3:20 left in the frame, despite Washington being outshot 15-5 at the time.
Prospal got that one back just 10 seconds later, and New York finished the period with a 2-1 lead and an 18-6 shots advantage.
The tide turned in the second as Washington quickly caught up in shots and on the scoreboard. Knuble's 20th goal made it 2-2 at 4:41, and Ovechkin's power-play tally at 7:16 gave the Capitals their first lead.
Jokinen, in his second game since being acquired from Calgary on Monday, scored his 12th of the season and first with the Rangers to make it 3-3 at 12:19. Prospal put New York back on top 40 seconds later.
Dubinsky's power-play goal with 1:12 left in the second made it 5-3 and had Madison Square Garden rocking.
It didn't last long as Ovechkin quieted the crowd by netting his NHL-leading 38th, scoring a one-handed goal with only 8.5 seconds left in the middle frame.
Former Rangers defenceman Poti tied it 5-5 just 59 seconds into the third, 36 seconds after New York rookie Michael Del Zotto was sent off for high-sticking.
NOTES: Gaborik scored five of New York's six goals in the three-game road trip. ... The Capitals allowed as many as three goals for only the fourth time in their streak. ... Washington was 3 for 9 on the power play. New York, which finished with a 38-32 edge in shots, was 4 for 6.