WASHINGTON -- The uniforms of the New York Rangers' Brian Boyle and Dan Girardi were drenched in blood. Washington Capitals veteran forward Mike Knuble had a laceration over his eye that looked like something out of a horror movie.
That's the price that players have to pay in order to achieve victory in a triple-overtime game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both the Rangers and Capitals put that willingness to win at any cost on full display at Verizon Center on Wednesday night and into the early hours of Thursday morning, but it was Marian Gaborik's flash of skill that ended an epic battle in which neither team gave an inch.
Gaborik scored his first goal in nine games at 14:41 of the third overtime and gave the Rangers a 2-1 victory and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinal series.
"Everybody left everything out there," Gaborik said. "It was all in our heads. We were talking about how we have to push and we have to leave everything out there and we did. We had a lot mental toughness.
"It's been a while. So it feels great to get to contribute and get on the board, especially in this type of game."
There were no shortage of heroes and unsung heroes in the first triple-overtime game (and victory) for the Rangers since 1971.
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh played a game-high 53:17 and blocked eight shots. Fellow blueliner Marc Staal played 49:30 and had six hits. Boyle blocked a one-time blast from Caps sniper Alexander Semin during the second overtime with his shoulder and face and also delivered a team-high nine hits, while fourth-liner John Mitchell, who entered the night with zero shots in nine postseason games, had five shots on net.
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was 1-7 in his career in playoff OT games before this marathon, made 45 saves to break a seven-game losing streak in postseason overtime. The Rangers also ended a seven-game OT losing streak in the playoffs; the record is eight.
"It was impressive the job those guys did," said Boyle, who accidentally blocked teammate Mike Rupp's shot toward an empty net in the first overtime. "Our d-corps, and (Lundqvist) obviously staying sharp, everyone, right down the line. (Mitchell's) line gave us some great shifts in the overtime. Right down the line, everybody did everything they could to win."
A hallmark of a John Tortorella training camp is its grueling nature, something players hate at the time but for which they are grateful during a game that requires more stamina than skill. The Rangers appeared to have the fresher legs during the third overtime, but Staal said he felt fresh mentally as well.
"I think the training camp is not only a grind mentally, but physically as well," Staal said. "I think that pays dividends going into a late game like that, just being strong up top and making sure you're continuing to do the right things."
The Capitals had several chances to win the game during the extra periods but were vexed by inaccuracy, a terrific play by Rangers captain Ryan Callahan and a little bit of bad luck.
During the first overtime, Capitals forward Matt Hendricks, who was a physical force throughout the contest and led all players with 11 hits, slammed McDonagh to the ice to force a turnover in the Rangers zone. Hendricks retrieved the puck behind the net and fed it in front to Troy Brouwer, who missed the right post by inches with Lundqvist out of position.
With five minutes left in the first overtime, Alex Ovechkin was left alone in front after a turnover by Anton Stralman and beat Lundqvist -- but not the far post.
Jason Chimera had a chance to win it for the Capitals in the final minutes of the overtime when he one-timed a shot off an odd-man rush, but Callahan scrambled and sprawled to get in front of the shot and keep the game tied. Less than a minute before Gaborik ended it, Capitals defenseman Dennis Wideman uncorked a shot off an offensive-zone faceoff that hit bodies in front of the net and caromed off the left post.
"We had our chances," Hendricks said. "We had some really good opportunities, a couple of posts. We just didn’t find the back of the net and they got the last bounce, so it's what we expected against the Rangers. We expected a tight-checking hockey. They had a power-play goal tonight, too. We didn't have one, so that was the difference."
The two teams played a scoreless first period while the game was still taking place Wednesday, but it was Callahan who opened the scoring at 6:41 of the second period with a power-play goal. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto fired a shot from the left point that hit defenseman John Carlson and Hendricks on the way to the net before coming to the rest at the feet of Callahan, who swept the shot past Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby to make it 1-0.
Carlson atoned for his unintentional gaffe less than five minutes with a great individual effort that ended with him firing a laser that beat Lundqvist high to the blocker side.
From there, it was a series of scoring chances that were turned aside by Lundqvist, Holtby and a never-ending series of shot-blockers and goal posts.
Tortorella said the length of the contest favored his club.
"When you get into that many hours of playing, it becomes a mental game," Tortorella said. "I felt if the game got longer and longer, our team was at an advantage. We have a mentally tough group. I think some of the things you go through at the beginning of the year, the camps and stuff like that, we talk about that. We tried to get any type of edge we could. It becomes a mental game. Just not giving in. That's the key."
This game was the longest for the Rangers in 73 years and fifth-longest in the franchise's history. The Capitals have only played two lengthier games in their history.
As historic as the contest was, with Game 4 set for Saturday afternoon (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS), Tortorella was happy to put it in perspective.
"The impact is we're up a game," Tortorella said. "They have to win three, we have to win two. Other than that, we'll take tomorrow off and get ready to play. The guys should feel good about themselves as far as what they went through. They didn't give in and found a way. Now we go about our business."
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