By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
Mere seconds away from a devestating defeat on home ice, and facing the prospect of having to play two must-win games to keep their season alive, the Rangers instead forged one of the greatest comeback victories in franchise history Monday night at Madison Square Garden, a 3-2 overtime win over the Washington Capitals in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Now holding a 3-2 series lead, the Rangers will try and finish off the Caps in Game 6 at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night.
With goaltender Henrik Lundqvist pulled for a sixth attacker and the Rangers trailing 2-1, Washington's Joel Ward received a double-minor for high-sticking Carl Hagelin as the Blueshirts desperately pressed the attack with 22 seconds left to play in teh third period. A Brad Richards face-off win set the stage for a wild scramble in front of the Capitals net, with Braden Holtby twice denying Ryan Callahan on the doorstep before Richards slipped a rebound past the Caps rookie netminder with just 6.6 seconds remaining on the clock to tie the game.
Richards' goal---his team-high fifth of the post-season---set forth a wild celebration in the corner as Madison Square Garden nearly had its roof blown off by the sheer volume emitted by the relieved Garden Faithful. Nearly as good news as the tying goal was the fact that the Rangers remained on the power play for the final seconds, and, more importantly to start the overtime period.
And the Rangers capitalized on their second straight power play opportunity when John Mitchell won an offensive zone face-off back to Marc Staal at the right point and Staal hammered a slap shot past a screened Holtby at the 1:35 mark of overtime, lifting the Rangers to victory and sealing their amazing comeback.
For the third time in this series the Rangers were burned with a man in the penalty box in the third period. This time Washington snapped a 1-1 tie when John Carlson's long-range slap shot beat Henrik Lundqvist at 4:20 with Mike Rupp serving a hooking minor. The goal was preceded by three straight blocked shots by the Rangers---though their inability to clear the puck out of the defensive zone ultimately cost them.
Though the Rangers completely dominated Washington in the first period, they managed to score only on one of their 17 shots on goal. And that came back to haunt them when Washington picked up its play in the second period and found a way to tie the score, sending the game into the third period deadlocked 1-1 despite a 26-10 Rangers' shots advantage.
Anton Stralman scored the only goal of the first period---his third of the playoffs---at 10:44. Stralman deftly skated around Matt Hendricks near the right wing boards before firing a quick shot that beat Holtby between the pads to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. Holtby, though, stopped the 16 other shots he faced in the opening period, leaving the Rangers frustrated even while holding the lead.
A lost defensive zone face-off hurt the Rangers midway through the second period and Brooks Laich cashed in from the slot at 8:15, tying the game 1-1. After a scrum along the boards, Alex Ovechkin sent a pass that tipped off Brian Boyle's stick and landed at Laich's feet, where he wired a shot past Lundqvist for his second post-season goal.
The Rangers came out in extremely physical fashion---credited with 15 hits in the first period, four by Stu Bickel---but that part of their game diminished in the second period when they were credited with only four hits, and the game slipped into a much more evenly played affair. The Caps were also able to remain in the game by killing off three Ranger power plays and blocking 17 attempted shots by the Rangers through 40 minutes of play.
Holtby finished with 35 saves for the Caps, while Lundqvist turned aside 16 shots for the Rangers.