All I could do was sit there and smile.
It’s safe to say (for me at least) that I saw one of the greatest hockey games of my time last night: the Washington Capitals
and New York Rangers
locking horns in a triple-overtime thriller that took nearly five hours to complete and elapsed over 114 minutes of playing time.
This was simply enthralling hockey theater from an Eastern Conference semifinal series that did not begin on the brightest of notes. Both clubs drew the ire of fans and the media for a shot-blocking bonanza during the first two games at Madison Square Garden
, and a stifling brand of hockey that surely had an old coach like Jacques Lemaire
The storylines coming into the game were plentiful: what was Dale Hunter’s philosophy in playing superstar Alex Ovechkin
less than his fourth line? Why are guys like Jay Beagle
and Keith Aucoin
two of the top ice-time leaders for the Capitals? But I think it’s even more so enthralling when these supposedly-significant themes take a backseat to the actual game, and in this case, hockey fans were treated to the ultimate test of sacrifice and willpower – and nearly saw two games’ worth.
Perhaps the most telling visual from last night’s Rangers victory was NBC Sports Network
panning the benches of both teams as the third overtime period began. Capitals veteran Mike Knuble
with a freshly-sutured wound above his left eye, Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi
with a large red stain on his white sweater, and New York forward Brian Boyle
checking his mouth for missing chiclets after taking a puck to the face earlier in the game.
Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh
had logged over 53 minutes of ice time when it was all said and done, and the goaltenders combined for 92 saves.
"When you get into that many hours of playing, it becomes a mental game," Rangers coach John 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."
At that juncture of the marathon game, all it took was one mistake or one brief lapse to spell curtains. In this case it was Rangers center Brad Richards
who got a nice feed from Marian Gaborik
in the neutral zone, and broke through the Capitals defense into offensive territory. Girardi cycled back behind the net to Richards, who quickly found Gaborik in the slot for a one-timer that beat Braden Holtby
between the pads. That was it. Over. Done. 114 minutes and 41 seconds later, the Rangers did not know whether to exhale, celebrate or collapse from exhaustion. But they had won the game, and that’s what mattered to them.
For nearly two full-length games last night, the Rangers and Capitals put everything on the line for the guy sitting next to them. It’s what makes this game and this Stanley Cup playoffs tournament the absolute best in professional sports.
McDonagh summed it up best after the game, when asked what keeps players going so late in a game: “Knowing the guy next to you is doing it the same way. It's not really exhaustion when you win a game. You feel like all that effort paid off. That's the only way to put it."
Sometimes, you’re disappointed when a guy scores an overtime winner, say, three minutes into the sudden-death session. We all found out why last night. Every playoff season should make us so fortunate to witness a display of sacrifice, teamwork, and determination as we did on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center.
There’s no competition like this in all of sports. And all I could do was sit there and smile.TOP HEADLINES
Follow @BlueJacketsNHL on Twitter, and use the hashtag #CBJ
LIKE Columbus Blue Jackets on Facebook