WASHINGTON — How badly did Evgeny Kuznetsov want to win on Sunday? He was even willing to get in Alex Ovechkin’s way.
Kuznetsov scored at 4 minutes 20 seconds of overtime, just beating his star teammate’s stick to the puck, and the Washington Capitals defeated the Rangers, 6-5, in their return from their longest road trip this season.
“Those 2 points are really big for us,” Kuznetsov said of the victory, which came after Washington twice gave up two-goal leads. “I feel especially today between 1 and 2 points it will be a huge difference at the end of the season.”
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist tried to block Kuznetsov’s pass back to Ovechkin in front of the net.
But the puck trickled away from Lundqvist and into the crease. Ovechkin first tried to knock it in for what would have been his 45th goal before Kuznetsov guided it across the goal line from inches out for his 16th of the season.
“I don’t think it matters who scores, right?” Kuznetsov said. “As long as we got a win.”
Nicklas Backstrom scored his 14th and 15th goals as the second-place Capitals moved to 2 points behind the Metropolitan Division-leading Islanders, who have played two fewer games.
Tom Wilson added his 17th goal, and Nic Dowd and Michal Kempny also scored for Washington. Pheonix Copley made 26 saves, picking up his fourth straight victory, as the Capitals won a day after losing in Buffalo to finish their six-game trip at 3-3.
“We know it’s a big time of the year,” Backstrom said. “The last 20 games here, we need to get going, we need to collect points. We need to start playing better.”
Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei scored multiple goals for the first time in his career. His second tied the game with 31 seconds remaining in regulation.
Chris Kreider added his 26th, Jimmy Vesey contributed his 15th, and Vladislav Namestnikov also scored for the Rangers.
Lundqvist stopped 29 shots for the Rangers, who nearly pulled off a surprising victory despite going into Monday’s trade deadline in rebuilding mode.
They dealt forward Mats Zuccarello to Dallas on Saturday for two draft picks, and they benched forward Kevin Hayes and defenseman Adam McQuaid for a second straight game Sunday. Zuccarello had a goal and an assist in his Stars debut on Sunday, but he left after two periods with an upper-body injury.
“There’s an awful lot of good to take out of tonight,” Rangers Coach David Quinn said, adding: “We weren’t pushed around physically or mentally. These are the things you’re going to have to do moving forward to have success.”
Backstrom had not scored in 12 games entering Sunday, but he gave Washington a 5-3 lead when he beat Lundqvist over his glove from in close early in the third for his second of the game.
Namestnikov redirected Neal Pionk’s shot past Copley on a Rangers power play a few minutes later.
Although the Capitals killed off another Rangers man advantage inside the final four minutes, Skjei’s deflected shot forced overtime and set off wild celebrations on the visitors’ bench after the Rangers had pulled Lundqvist for an extra attacker.
“It’s been an emotional 48, 72 hours for everybody,” Quinn said. “And that felt really good, that goal.”
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