A hard-work win, just like the season

Mike Knuble #22 of the Washington Capitals battles Mike Knuble #22 of the Washington Capitals battles with Henrik Lundqvist #30, Brian Boyle #22, and Ryan McDonagh #27 of the New York Rangers in front of the net during the third period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. (May 2, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.

WASHINGTON

There was blood, in a couple different spots on the Verizon Center ice. Just in case you wondered whether the Rangers left everything they had out there in Game 3.

Plenty of sweat, too. And, in the end, maybe even a few tears of joy, especially for Marian Gaborik, who got a monkey off his own back and off of everyone in the building with his goal at 14:41 of the third overtime that gave the Rangers a lead in the series.

Even bigger than Gaborik's goal to end a 94-minute game was how the Rangers emptied their tank and came up winners, as they have seemed to do night in and night out in this season.

"I felt as the game went longer and longer, our team was at an advantage," John Tortorella said. "We have a mentally tough group."

It is because of Tortorella that the Rangers have navigated the ups and downs of a crazy season. It began in Europe and went to western Canada via Long Island, while the Garden was undergoing renovations; went through the HBO "24/7" cameras recording everything, on up through the Winter Classic and then to the end of an Eastern Conference-winning regular season.

All along, Tortorella has had to prod his team less and less as it played more and more the way he wanted it to. And stayed mentally strong, even after falling behind 3-2 against the Senators in the opening round, leading to the Caps series.

And then, to Wednesday night, or into the wee hours of this morning. Ryan McDonagh played 53:21, barely short of a full game, and didn't miss a shift after getting freight-trained by Matt Hendricks in the first overtime.

Dan Girardi and Brian Boyle both needed to be stitched up in the first OT, neither missing much time.

"You put in all that effort, all that emotion, put your body on the line for that long . . . You just want so bad to pull it out," Marc Staal said.

The Rangers earned their day off Thursday, with a practice coming up Friday and Game 4 on Saturday.

It's hard to imagine that the Rangers won't be able to put this one in proper perspective after a day to rest. They've prepared for this time of year all season long.

About the only Ranger who could have used a boost was Gaborik, goalless since Game 1 against the Senators. "I hope it gets him going," Tortorella said. Gaborik hasn't seemed built for these playoffs, when blocking shots and throwing checks have trumped pretty plays, but his goal to end this affair was as pretty as anything and he jumped pretty high for a tired player after scoring it.

"It's Game 3, they're always big," Anton Stralman said. "It's important to stay ahead in the series.''

The Rangers did that early this morning, after leaving everything they had on the ice. It was as big a win as any in the last few seasons, another notch in the belt for a team making a habit of winning when it matters.

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