This was a throwback to last spring, to the seven-game conference semis in which the Rangers battled and grinded their way to victory over the Capitals, the ultimate match decided by a typical 2-1 score.

And this was in fact a throwback to last year, as much of a blue-collar effort as the Rangers have produced this lockout-shortened season, and it ended 2-1 — what else? — for the home team over Washington at the Garden last night.

“This is the way we have to play in order to win,” Ryan Callahan said after Derek Stepan’s power play goal off a picture-perfect three-man relay at 4:25 of the third period broke a 1-1 deadlock. “We talked before the game about focusing on being much stronger in our defensive game, and I thought we were.

“I thought we were harder. We were better blocking shots. We were more disciplined. For us to be successful, it starts with defense. We can’t be run-and-gun.”

From the captain and then, later, from the coach, the very same words, “run and gun,” and in the very same context, as in, “not our team.”

“We traded for Nasher [Rick Nash] but that doesn’t turn us into run-and-gun,” said John Tortorella, whose team has struggled to affix the Black-and-Blueshirt identity to itself while incorporating more sheer talent into the mix. “The staple of this team is still to defend first.

“Defending harder has been a really big part of our focus. I don’t think we defend hard enough in the corners, we’re too easy for teams to roll out of the corners against us, but we were better.”

The Rangers were stiffer in their own end, more committed to getting into lanes and blocking shots. They dominated most of the match, working well below the hash marks in the offensive zone while Nash shook off whatever had been ailing him the last couple of days to produce an eight-shot performance in 22:33, plus a brilliant reverse move at the top that triggered Stepan’s tic-tac-toe power-play goal off a final relay from Michael Del Zotto.

“I’ve said from the start that we have enough talent to be dynamic,” said Del Zotto, who split the seam from the right circle to deliver the puck to Stepan at the left doorstep. “It all started with Nasher’s play. When he extended them it became a 4-on-3 and the seams just opened up.”