There are probably a hundred little plays that determine the fate of a hockey game and in the third period of Sunday night’s game against the Rangers, Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner was part of one of them.

With 4:18 gone in the period and the two teams locked in a tie game, Alzner went into the corner with Brad Richards and as he went to check him into the boards, his stick found its way between Richards’ legs and the rangers’ center went down.

Alzner threw his hands up in disgust and went to the penalty box. Seven seconds later Derek Stepan scored the game-winning goal for the Rangers on a beautiful passing play from Richards and Michal Del Zotto.

“It’s tough,” Alzner said after the Capitals’ 2-1 loss at MadisonSquareGarden, a defeat that snapped their modest three-game win streak. “I understand why he called it. The only thing you can hope is that he gives you the benefit of the doubt that it’s a hockey play.

“I’m going to check a guy and he tries jumps over my stick or steps on it, whatever he does. You just hope that they read the play the way I read it, but they didn’t.”

Capitals coach Adam Oates didn’t like the call but he made it clear his players can’t be putting themselves in positions that can cost hockey games.

“Bottom line is you've gotta be in control and you can't take penalties,” Oates said.

Stepan’s goal ruined a spectacular performance by Braden Holtby, who stopped 38 shots in the loss, his fifth of the season against four wins.

“He’s a good goalie,” said Rangers winger Rick Nash who was stopped eight times by Holtby. “He comes out and challenges you pretty good. Really, during the whole game, he was pretty effective.”