By the slimmest of margins, the Rangers will live to play another game.
"We're still breathing and we are going to go into Washington on Sunday and give it our best shot," coach Alain Vigneault said after the Blueshirts staved off playoff elimination at home in dramatic fashion Friday night, beating the Washington Capitals, 2-1, on captain Ryan McDonagh's goal at 9:37 of overtime after Chris Kreider tied the game with 1:41 left in regulation.
With their backs against the wall, the Rangers scored two clutch goals against Braden Holtby, who had another remarkable game with 41 saves.
The Rangers trail the Eastern Conference semifinals series 3-2. Game 6 is tomorrow in Washington, where the Rangers have scored one goal in two losses.
"Going home now, there's a lot of pressure on them," said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 28 saves. "I know for sure they don't want to come back here for another game. So we'll try to use that to our advantage and go out and try to play our best game of the series."
It was ninth straight time that the Rangers have avoided elimination at Madison Square Garden, but it turned out to be another playoff game decided by one goal, the 12 straight dating to last year's Stanley Cup Final.
McDonagh's winner, the team's third in overtime this spring, came after Jesper Fast batted down a Capitals pass attempt in mid-air and sent the puck to Derek Stepan. McDonagh took a drop pass from Stepan, who had also set up Kreider in about the same area of the ice, near the left faceoff circle, and fired.
His wrister hit defenseman Tim Gleason and went past Holtby. "We had to regroup, our season was on the line," McDonagh said. "I was joining the play, and I knew I had a lot of time. Step pump-faked and was able to drop it."
"It looked like he [Stepan] was going to shoot it," said Holtby. "I lost him a bit with bodies in front. I saw he dropped it back and I didn't know where it went. I heard it hit a stick and that was it."
Stepan knew what he was doing: "My initial thought was shot. There was just too much traffic. I saw him [McDonagh] before, then I did hear him call for the puck. It's good to get the ball rolling. We can enjoy this for about 10 minutes, then concentrate on Sunday."
Kreider forced overtime when he took Stepan's feed and fired from his knees. The puck ticked Brooks Orpik's skate to tie the game at 1. "Kreids was able to make a nice play on the entry and gets himself open," said Stepan. "The way he shoots he can beat a lot of goalies from there."
Curtis Glencross had given the Caps a 1-0 lead at 10:54 of the third on a breakaway after Keith Yandle pinched and Tom Wilson knocked the puck away from Kevin Klein. Lundqvist made the initial save, but Glencross knocked his own rebound over the fallen goalie.
The Rangers had come out flying, outshooting the Capitals 14-4 halfway through the first period. But there were plenty of close calls in the second. Stepan's rebound from the left side, with a mostly open net from 20 feet away, was tipped high when Mike Green lunged with his stick at 3:10. Holtby robbed St. Louis twce, once from the low slot with his glove at 7:08. Kreider's rebound of his own shot on the power play got through Holtby, but with the puck rolling toward the line, Matt Niskanen swept it away.
The Caps got a puck past Lundqvist with 2:09 left in the second. Niskanen's long shot, with Joel Ward battling with McDonagh in front, bounced off Ward, but contact was made with Lundqvist. A review confirmed goaltender interference.
"It's just a big relief," Lundqvist said about the comeback. "We work so hard to get the looks and to try to score goals and when you do, at such an important time in the game and the season, it's a big relief."