WASHINGTON, D.C.---If John Davidson was still calling Rangers games, last night would have elicited a monumental “Oh, baby.”
Marian Gaborik scored from in front on a pass from Brad Richards at 5:19 of the third overtime for a grueling, draining 2-1 victory over the Capitals as the Rangers survived the fifth-longest game in team history and took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
“It was about will,” said Gaborik, who ended the marathon with his seventh shot in 32:22. “It feels great….it takes quite a bit. Some of us have been through this type of overtimes. Everybody left everything out there.”
Gaborik, who scored 41 goals during the season but just one in the first game of the playoffs against the Ottawa Senators, almost ended it with 8:30 left in the final overtime when his rising shot beat Braden Holtby but rang off the post. “So it was about time to go in,” he said.
It was the longest Rangers playoff overtime game since 1971, when Pete Stemkowski's goal at 41:29 beat Chicago 3-2. And it was the second triple overtime game in 73 years, since Boston's Mel Hill scored at 48:00 to win a 1939 game, 2-1.
“It’s a big time play by big-time players,” said Brian Boyle, who was one of the numerous bloodied and spent players, with six stitches in his chin. “We’re all feeling pretty good, we’re happy for him.”
Gaborik’s goal broke a string of seven straight playoff overtime losses for the Rangers, who last won, 2-1, on Michael Rozsival's goal in double overtime against the Sabres in 2007. “Richie handled it behind the net,” said Gaborik, who also assisted on Ryan Callahan’s goal at 6:41 of the second period that provided the Rangers a 1-0 lead. “I just tried to get good wood on it.”
The relief and exhaustion was clear in the locker room. A hoarse Henrik Lundqvist, who made 45 saves and won his first overtime game after seven losses, said: “My neck is hurting….I think my entire body is tired. I just want to lay down and relax and get a massage….After the fourth period, I think it’s all in your head. It’s not so much your technique---it’s just ‘How much can you push yourself?’ ’’
Besides the Gatorade and water and fruit that the players wolfed down between periods for energy, Rangers coach John Tortorella said that his team’s conditioning and attitude built over a long season was a factor.
“When you get into that many hours of playing, it becomes a mental game,” he said. “As the game got longer and longer, I felt our team was at an advantage, we’ve got a mentally tough group. We talked about that, we tried to get any type of edge we could. Just not giving in, that’s the key.”
Game 4 is Saturday afternoon and Game 5 is back in New York on Monday. “The impact is we’re up a game. They have to win three, we have to win two,” Tororella said.
John Carlson had the game 1-1 on a rush after Callahan's goal, as Marc Staal's stick dislodged the puck, which bounced off Carlson, who retrieved it, cut right and followed with a stickside wrister past Lundqvist at 11:10 of the second period. No one else scored until four periods later, although there were chances.
With five minutes left in the first overtime, Anton Stralman's backhanded giveaway to Alex Ovechkin at the dot in the left circle almost was the gaffe that ended it, but Ovechkin’s shot hit the far post behind Lundqvist.
“I heard it hit the post and saw the light go off, and I thought -----,” said Stralman.
With 2:28 left, Alexander Semin tripped Callahan but Holtby, who made 47 saves, stopped shots at the doorstep by Michael Del Zotto and Callahan. The session ended with Boyle bloodied on the left side of the face after being hit by Semin's slapper.
Dan Girardi missed five minutes to be stitched up between the eyes, and Ryan McDonagh played an astounding 53 minutes. To no one's surprise, the team has today off.