Every spring the Stanley Cup Playoffs feature numerous games in which 60 minutes simply aren't enough to determine a winner, but far rarer are the games that become marathons etched into the memories of fans not just of the two teams on the ice, but the sport as a whole.
As the late hours of Wednesday turned into Thursday morning, it became clear that Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals would be that first sprawling epic for the 2012 postseason.
By the time it ended, NBCSN announcer Mike Emrick noted that three playoff games were played Wednesday night -- and two of them were in Washington's Verizon Center. But as the game stretched on, there seemed to be a feeling that it might never end, not because the teams were slowing down or the hockey was getting sloppy, but because neither team would relent. From start to finish of the game's 114-plus minutes, this was a display of quality chances, hard, clean hitting, rubber meeting iron and superb goaltending.
"Everybody left everything out there," said Marian Gaborik, the man who won the game late in its sixth period. "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."
After several shots by both teams rang off the pipe during each of the three overtimes Gaborik, who had been staring at a ninth straight game without a goal, stood alone in front of Capitals goalie Braden Holtby when Brad Richards fed him the puck from the edge of the trapezoid. Gaborik let loose a one-timer that found Holtby's five-hole and just before the D.C. Metro shut down for the night, it was time for everyone to go home.
Gaborik was brought to the Rangers to score goals, and while he's delivered in the regular season, topping 40 goals in two of his three campaigns in New York, he has struggled to find the net with the same frequency in the playoffs. Last night, however, he managed the biggest goal he's ever scored in a Rangers sweater.
"It's been a while," he said afterward. "It feels great to get to contribute and get on the board, especially in this type of game."
Depending on how far the Rangers go this postseason, Gaborik's triple-overtime game-winner may go down in franchise lore as one of the biggest moments in team history. Even if it doesn't, Gaborik and the New York fans will still remember that it was he who snapped his goal-scoring drought and ended the longest Rangers game in four decades.
After all, as any distance runner can tell you, it's always an achievement to finish a marathon.