Matt Bradley was in the the right place twice last night in the Washington Capitals 4-2 win over the New York Rangers, and he made the right plays both times.
First, he took on Rangers tough guy Aaron Voros, trading wild right hand punches that left the smaller Bradley bloodied about his left eye, requiring six stiches. Later, he gathered in a loose puck, shielded rookie defenseman Matt Gilroy, and beat Henrik Lundqvist high to the glove side to break a 2-2 tie in the third period.
Bradley, one of the team's unsung heroes, was typically nonchalant about the fight, which seemed to spark the entire Capitals team. "It didn't bother me. I could feel the blood coming, but there is no pain or anything. It's just one of those things that is more annoying than anything. You have to go in and get stitches and you have to miss five minutes."
The game marked the return of Alex Ovechkin to Washington's line-up. The two-time Hart Trophy winner had missed the previous six games with an upper body injury, and he returned with a flourish, banging home a one-timer from the point on a power play in the first period for his 15th goal of the season.
Ovechkin also doled out several hits, so it appears the injury will not keep him from playing the physical game he is accustomed to.
Semyon Varlamov made 18 saves on 20 shots to earn the win, and joins a small group of goalies to win 12 of their first 14 NHL decisions.
And Bruce Boudreau hit the 100 win mark for his career, the fourth fastest in NHL history to reach the century mark.
But the game Tuesday night belonged to Bradley, the scrappy fourth line winger. His fourth goal of the season lifted his team in the waning moments of a close hockey game, and kept them on top of the standings in the Eastern Conference.
1. A. Ovechkin - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)
2. M. Gaborik - NYR (Goals: 2, Assists: 0)
3. M. Bradley - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)
Quentin Laing suffered a broken jaw blocking a shot with his face in the third period. It's unknown how long the injury will keep him siddelined, but preliminary reports say it could be "weeks" before he can play again.
Tomas Fleischmann assisted on Ovechkin's goal, pushing his scoring streak to nine games, tying Mike Green for the longest such streak this season.
The Caps' power play went 2-for-4, and has scored at least one goal in all but four games this season. It's now up to 25.6 percent and is ranked third in the league.