WASHINGTON – With the score tied in the third period, the New York Rangers did what they do best – kill off a power play. Then Markus Naslund popped out of the penalty box and set up the winning goal.

Naslund fed Brandon Dubinsky, who made a move that left Jeff Schultz sprawled on the ice. Dubinsky then beat goalie Jose Theodore inside the near post with 8:17 remaining, lifting the Rangers to a 4-3 victory over Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference series.

Scott Gomez had a goal and two assists, Nik Antropov and Naslund each had a goal and an assist, and Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves to help the seventh-seeded Rangers take the early series momentum against the second-seeded Capitals.

Tomas Fleischmann, Viktor Kozlov and Alexander Semin scored the goals, and Ovechkin had a pair of assists for the Capitals, who will try to pull even when they host Game 2 on Saturday. Jose Theodore made 17 saves for Washington.

The Rangers, the NHL’s best penalty killers during the regular season, uncharacteristically allowed two power-play goals – the first time in 30 games they’ve allowed more than one – but they shut the Capitals down when it mattered. Naslund was whistled for infractions twice in the game’s final 12 minutes – the second time for slashing Ovechkin – but Washington’s No. 2-ranked power play came up empty both times.

While much of the focus was on the Capitals’ power play vs. the Rangers’ penalty kill, it was New York’s supposedly anemic man-advantage unit – ranked 29th in the league – that swung the momentum in the second period.

Antropov and Naslund scored power-play goals on back-to-back shots to give New York a 3-1 lead. The Capitals rallied to tie when Kozlov netted late in the second and Semin on a power-play early in the third.

The Capitals will rue the fact that they dominated a first period that ended scoreless. They outshot the Rangers 14-4, and Ovechkin was active with six shots and six hits – including had a few tit-for-tat exchanges with Marc Staal. The league’s leading goal-scorer put on a nice move to get around Michal Rozsival, but his point-blank shot was stopped by Lundqvist.

Among the other highlights: Rangers bad boy Sean Avery, trying his best to agitate the Capitals, drew a holding penalty for stuffing his glove in John Erskine’s face. Avery and Mike Green had more than their share of confrontations, and Avery shoved his stick into Theodore’s chest in the game’s final moments.

Washington got on the board 6:40 into the second period when Ovechkin steadied a pass from Green with his left skate before wristing a shot that was deflected by Fleischmann to Lundqvist’s stick side.

The red-clad Capitals fans in the sold-out Verizon Center were still celebrating when the Rangers tied the score about a minute later – thanks to a crafty play by Avery. With Gomez carrying the puck down the left side of the neutral zone, Avery tripped Green from behind near the blue line – a move just subtle enough to avoid a penalty – leaving Gomez plenty of room to skate in and beat Theodore at the 7:49 mark.

Antropov put the Rangers ahead 2-1 with a power-play goal at 18:25, double-clutching on a wrist shot inside the far post past screened goalie Theodore.

Less than a minute later, Sergei Fedorov was whistled for delay of game before clearing the puck over the boards – the second time the Capitals were guilty of that infraction – and the Rangers capitalized when Naslund took a drop pass from Gomez and ripped a slap shot past Theodore, who barely moved and again appeared to be screened.

The Capitals regained some momentum going into the intermission when Backstrom worked the puck down the left-hand side and slid a perfect pass to Kozlov, who was charging toward the crease to convert the easy goal with 49 seconds left in the period.

The Capitals then tied the score 1:42 into the final period on a power play after Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty on Dan Girardi. Ovechkin, near the goal line to the left of the Rangers net, put a shot off of Lundqvist’s arm. Semin poked the rebound into the net.

Notes: C Chris Drury was New York’s only scratch. The Rangers captain had returned to practice Tuesday after missing four days with an undisclosed injury. … Capitals forwards Donald Brashear (sprained knee) was scratched, but C Boyd Gordon (broken finger) and D Tom Poti (strained groin) returned after missing the end of the regular season with injuries.

AP-ES-04-15-09 2203EDT

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