-- The Rangers were 6.6 seconds from being pushed to the brink. They pushed back.
scored in the dying moments of regulation to send the game to overtime, then Marc Staal
won it 1:35 into the extra period to give the Rangers a come-from-behind 3-2 victory against the Washington Capitals
on Monday night in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.
The victory gives the top-seeded Rangers a 3-2 lead of the best-of-seven series with Game 6 set for Wednesday night at Verizon Center.
Both goals were power-play goals as the result of a double-minor high-sticking penalty to Washington's Joel Ward
with 21.3 seconds remaining in regulation. With Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
on the bench for an extra attacker, Richards tied it off a wild scramble around Caps goaltender Braden Holtby
after Rangers captain Ryan Callahan
got two whacks at a loose puck.
Richards swooped in to bang the puck into the net just before Holtby, who made 35 saves, could smother it with his catching glove.
"We've been talking about it all year," Lundqvist said. "Not only on the ice but off the ice, to have a guy like that -- he knows what it takes. You could tell when games are getting tighter, more important, he plays better. I think he likes the intensity in games like that. It just shows what type of player he really is."
Staal scored the winner off an offensive-draw won cleanly by John Mitchell. Staal gathered the puck, skated to the center of the ice and fired a long shot that deflected off at least one Capital and past Holtby to create bedlam at Madison Square Garden.
"You don't even look at the time. You're just hoping gets on net or on your stick," Richards said of his game-tying goal. "That last little flurry there was mayhem for the last minute. We kept getting things to the net and one just happened to hop out."
The Rangers won 2-1 in triple-overtime in Game 3 in the NHL's longest game in nearly four years. They wasted no time in putting it away in Game 5.
"Completely different because the triple overtime was kind of a mental thing," Richards said. "This felt like it was a three-period game and we just waited a while to get it done. We felt like we probably deserved a little bit more than being down 2-1 with that much time left, so with the amount of shots and that much zone time, it was good to finally get one."
After the first 20 minutes, it was hard to imagine the Capitals having a lead at any point.
The Rangers left the first period up 1-0 and held a 17-4 advantage in shots. Defenseman Anton Stralman
scored the lone goal of the opening 20 minutes by stepping around a kneeling Matt Hendricks
and firing a bad-angle shot that got through Holtby.
The score remained that way until the 8:15 mark of the second period, when Brooks Laich
tied it off a broken play.
Caps star Alex Ovechkin
attempted a pass to the slot area that was deflected off-route by Rangers center Brian Boyle
. The bouncing puck came to rest in the slot, and Laich's quick shot beat Lundqvist to make it 1-1.
Defenseman John Carlson
made it 2-1 Caps with a power-play goal at 4:20 of the third period. Callahan had his broken by a slap shot seconds prior on a shot by Carlson, who smoked the puck past Lundqvist to make things look pretty bleak for the Rangers.
"I don't think we tied that many games late this year, but you have to believe," Lundqvist said. "You have to believe you can do it. The way we played tonight, we worked so hard. It was tough for us to get in front and create real good scoring chances, but we were shooting a lot and had a lot of energy. I definitely think we deserved this win."
The Capitals had a chance to take a 3-1 lead not long after Carlson's goal. Rangers forward Artem Anisimov
committed a turnover that led to a chance for Nicklas Backstrom
, who rang a shot off the crossbar.
When it came to getting puck on net, the Capitals once again made life difficult on the Rangers by blocking 25 attempts. The Rangers blocked just 10, but coach John Tortorella said that was more about his team controlling the game by controlling the puck.
"When I look at the past two games, we've had the puck," Tortorella said. "If you look at blocked shots, we didn't block many shots because we've had the puck. We're just going to keep playing. We know how hard they play defense and they've done some really good things that way but we're just going to keep on blocking."
It's always tough to score a tying goal late in regulation, but it seemed like a near impossibility for the Rangers, who were 0-for-3 on the power play up until Richards scored and had zero shots during their six minutes of playing with the man-advantage.
Perhaps even less likely, in the eyes of Tortorella, was getting the goal from Richards after the way he played in Game 4.
"I thought he was brutal last game and it was probably one of the few games he's struggled," Tortorella said. "He's been a big-time player for us for quite a while. We were kind of crawling on him earlier in the year when he was trying to find his bearings, but he's been a pretty big part of us getting this playoff seed."
The Capitals will head home focusing on the fact they were so close to taking command in the series, and the last person being blamed for the loss is Ward, whose errant stick to the face of the Rangers' Carl Hagelin
changed the course of this series.
"You can't say it was his fault," Ovechkin said. "We all lost the game. We win as a group and lose as a group. … Unfortunately it was close, but not close enough. Tomorrow's going to be a new day and (the next game) is going to be a new game. We've just got to play our game."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo