WASHINGTON -- There's no way what unfolded in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals was what New York Rangers general manager/president Glen Sather had in mind when he pulled the trigger on a trade nearly three years ago, but that deal had a direct effect on the outcome of Wednesday's contest.
On June 30, 2009, Sather sent center Scott Gomez, who had five years and $33.5 million left on his contract, and forward Tom Pyatt to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for 20-year-old defense prospect Ryan McDonagh and forward Christopher Higgins.
By getting the contract of Gomez of the books, Sather was able to sign free-agent forward Marian Gaborik to a five-year, $37.5 contract the following day.
RANGERS VS. CAPITALS
Caps must pick up the pieces after loss
By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer
The Capitals didn't give up a goal for 80 minutes in Game 3, and still came away with a heartbreaking 2-1 loss in triple overtime. READ MORE ›
On Wednesday night and into the early hours of Thursday morning, McDonagh and Gaborik made Sather look like a genius. McDonagh played a flawless 53:17 and Gaborik scored with 5:19 left in the third overtime to give the Rangers a 2-1 victory at Verizon Center and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
It was Gaborik's first goal since Game 1 of the conference quarterfinals against the Ottawa Senators, and by far his biggest as a Ranger.
"I hope it gets Gabby going," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "It's a guy we need as we continue. Remember -- this is just one game. We have plenty of other things to take care of, and hopefully this will get him going."
Sure, the Rangers needed to play what was essentially two games for him to accomplish the feat, but Gaborik had seven shots on goal, the first time he's had more than two since Game 1 against Ottawa. A little more than two minutes before the winner, Gaborik rang a shot off the post.
It took a while for Gaborik to get going, but as the game progressed, he became more dominant and eventually put the Capitals away.
"It was a long game," Gaborik said. "It was about will. We wanted to win this game. It feels good to get that winner. … It's been a while. So it feels great to get contribute and get on the board, especially in this type of game."
McDonagh has steadily progressed into arguably the Rangers' best defenseman this season at the age of 22, and there was no one more important to the Game 3 victory. His ice time was the most since defensemen Brian Campbell (56:23) and Sergei Zubov (53:50) played in a quadruple overtime game between San Jose and Dallas on May 4, 2008.
McDonagh said he didn't need intravenous fluids before or after the game and that his teammates provided all the motivation necessary in the NHL's longest game since that Sharks-Stars battle.
"Knowing that the guy next to me is doing (it) the same way," McDonagh said of what kept him going. "Whoever was out there battling, you could see it, huge blocked shots, (goaltender Henrik Lundqvist) was just on his game the whole way, so focused. Everybody was just putting forth a great effort. It was just an unbelievable feeling to win.
"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."
It wasn't as though McDonagh was drawing easy assignments, either. He was constantly matched against the Capitals' top line that featured Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and had his workload increased slightly when defense partner Dan Girardi had to briefly go to the locker room after absorbing a stick to the face from Lundqvist during overtime.
Right Wing - NYR
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 7
SOG: 23 | +/-: -1
McDonagh was also nearly the goat during the first overtime when Capitals forward Matt Hendricks
delivered a rollicking hit, catching McDonagh with his head down along the boards in his own zone. Hendricks tracked down the loose puck behind the net and fed it in front to Troy Brouwer
, who missed the open side of the net.
In the end, McDonagh finished with a game-high eight blocked shots in what was a magnificent effort.
"Mac is a guy that has a mental toughness about him that impressed us right away when he came to us," Tortorella said. "We kept asking him, 'Are you OK?' He was fine. He wanted more."
"They were unbelievable," Lundqvist said of McDonagh and Girardi. "They work so hard. I caught myself thinking a couple times if we lose this how much effort you put into this to try and win. If you lose, it would be tough. Then you have to block that thought right away and stay positive. I tried not to think too much about the outcome, just focusing my game and what I have to do."
It was a coming-of-age game for McDonagh and an about-time game for Gaborik. If the Rangers use the win as a springboard to a Stanley Cup, they'll likely look back on McDonagh's ironman performance and Gaborik's timely snipe as a big reason for the club's first championship since 1994.
"It's great," Lundqvist said. "(Gaborik) works really hard, and obviously he wants to score. I think he feels the pressure when he's not scoring. This is the biggest goal in the playoffs for us so far. I'm happy for him. I think he can build a lot of confidence from this. He should. It's a big one."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo