Ryan McDonagh has shouldered the burden in his first season as Rangers captain, perhaps worn down a bit too much at times by wearing the "C." His goal at 9:37 of overtime Friday night may have lifted that weight off a bit.
He scored off a pass from Derek Stepan to keep the Rangers season alive.
Latest Rangers stories
"I'm just glad we've got another shot at it," said the low-key McDonagh, who scored his second goal in 10 playoff games this spring.
It also was just the third goal by a Rangers defenseman in these playoffs, the second of this series and the first at even strength by either team. The Capitals have been committed to blocking as many shots as possible, particularly from the points; the Rangers have responded the past three games by sending their defensemen in deep, trying to disrupt Washington's defensive-zone structure and create a few more gaps.
It hasn't worked. Frankly, it didn't work even on McDonagh's winner. Jesper Fast's mid-air steal from Curtis Glencross got the Rangers across the Caps line with speed and Stepan's pump-fake and drop pass to McDonagh created room for a shot that still needed a carom off Caps defenseman Tim Gleason to get past goalie Braden Holtby and give the Rangers another game.
"You've got to shoot through six pairs of legs sometimes from the point," Marc Staal said. "You've got to make a play like Step made, just be calm and confident in that situation."
McDonagh is always calm and confident, to the point where he said before Game 5 that even as captain there wasn't much to be said. He and the core of this Rangers team has been through this meat grinder before. The Rangers are 9-0 at home when facing elimination, dating to Game 4 of the 2008 conference semifinals against the Penguins.
"He's a very proud guy," Staal said of McDonagh. "He takes a lot of pride in setting an example on the ice."
His first season as captain didn't start as smoothly as McDonagh would have liked. Both he and the Rangers stumbled through the first few months to find their footing. But as McDonagh returned to being the fleet-skating, expertly positioned defenseman that he'd blossomed into in the 2013-14 season, the Rangers took over the NHL over the final three months of the season.
Friday night's overtime winner could again put McDonagh and the Rangers on the right path. Game 6 looms Sunday in Washington, another chance for the captain and his squad to display the cool and confidence to put the pressure on the Caps once more.
"We're not out of it," he said. "We just have to continue to play with a Game 7 mentality from here on out."