WASHINGTON - As one overtime led to another and then another, the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals waged an epic duel that was part hockey game and part survival contest.
The Rangers and Capitals played a game so long, one day turned in another. Until, finally, Marian Gaborik scored at 14:41 of the third overtime early Thursday to give New York a 2-1 win and 2-1 lead in this fiercely contested Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 45 shots for the Rangers, spent the better part of 4 1/2 hours repelling pucks and shooing skaters from the crease. Between periods, he did the best he could to prepare for the next grueling 20 minutes.
"Just rest, eat, drink," he said. "I don't know how much I drank, but it was a lot."
The situation was similar in the Capitals locker room.
"It's like when you were a little kid," Troy Brouwer said. "We had orange slices and banana slices coming around. Yeah, we had food in here. Power Bars and things like that to make sure we were keeping our energy up."
The victory enabled New York, the conference regular-season champions, to retake home-ice advantage from the seventh-seeded Capitals.
Brad Richards sent a pass from the backboards toward Gaborik, who ended the marathon by sliding the puck between the pads of rookie goaltender Braden Holtby.
"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. Just not giving in ??? that's the key."
It was Gaborik's first goal since New York's first playoff game against Ottawa, snapping an eight-game drought.
"I hope it gets Gabby going," Tortorella said. "He's a guy we need as we continue."
Holtby stopped 47 shots for the Capitals, but the last one got away.
"You just try to play every period the same," he said. "Once you start putting more pressure on yourself because it's overtime, that's when bad things start to happen. The game started to open up in the third overtime, but it happens."
Early in the third overtime, Washington killed a New York power play to keep the suspense going.
The game started at 7:40 p.m. Wednesday and stretched into the next day, ending at 12:14 a.m. Thursday. There will be a two-day break before the teams meet for Game 4 on Saturday in Washington.
Asked if this game was a series-turner, Tortorella said, "The impact is we're up a game. They have to win three, we have to win two. 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."
It was yet another low scoring, extremely tight game for the Capitals. Nine of Washington's 10 playoff games have been decided by one goal; the exception was New York's 3-1 win in the series opener.
John Carlson got a second-period goal for the Capitals, 2-3 in overtime this post-season. Ryan Callahan scored in the second period to make it 1-0 for New York, which improved to 1-2 in overtime during these playoffs.
Washington star Alex Ovechkin, who logged only 13 1/2 minutes of ice time in the Capitals' 3-2 victory Monday in Game 2 in New York, finished with 20 1/2 minutes in regulation. He had 6 1/2 minutes in the first period, compared to 3 1/2 in Game 2. After two periods, his 14:49 of ice time was the most on the team.
The difference was that in the previous game, Washington bolted to a 2-0 lead and didn't need the offence that Ovechkin is capable of providing. Despite his extended play in regulation, he was used sparingly during overtime.
Early in the first extra period, Brouwer got a pass in front of the net and inexplicably shot the puck wide. At the 15-minute mark, Ovechkin gathered in a turnover by Anton Stralman, moved in with a bouncing puck and drilled a shot off the right post.
The goal horn sounded, and many in the sellout crowd stood and cheered. But a replay showed the puck never entered the net.
Washington successfully killed a New York power play in the final minutes of the first extra session.
Fatigue became a factor in the second overtime, as the teams combined for 13 shots.
The Rangers had a chance to take the lead late in regulation when Mike Knuble was called for goaltender interference at 14:25 of the third period, even though he received a nudge from both Brian Boyle and Ryan McDonagh as he crashed into Lundqvist. New York failed to get off a shot, and with 13 seconds left on the man advantage, Richards was called for tripping.
Washington didn't get off a shot on its power play, either.
NOTES: Visiting teams are 13-6 in overtime this post-season. ... Rangers C Brandon Dubinsky was scratched for a third straight game with an unspecified injury. ... Washington had won five straight home playoff games against the Rangers, dating to 2009 and including last season. ... It was the third-longest game in Capitals history and the fifth-longest for the Rangers.