By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
Marian Gaborik's goal 14:41 into the third overtime period ended the fourth longest game in franchise history and lifted the Rangers to a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals Wednesday night at the Verizon Center. With the dramatic win, the Rangers now lead the best-of-seven series two games to one, with Game 4 slated for Saturday afternoon in the nation's capital.
Just a few minutes after rifling a shot off the post, Gaborik one-timed a Brad Richards feed from behind the net past Braden Holtby for the game-winning goal, touching off an exhausted celebration by the Rangers along the far boards. The goal was Gaborik's first in nine games since scoring in Game 1 of the first round against Ottawa. Richards and Dan Girardi---a warrior with over 44 minutes of ice-time Wednesday---assisted on the triple-OT goal, which ended the 20th longest game in league history---and third longest since the lockout.
The win also snapped the Rangers seven-game overtime losing streak in the post-season. The Blueshirts had not won in OT since April 29, 2007---a 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres at Madison Square Garden. They had lost twice in this year's opening round to the Ottawa Senators to extend their drought to seven games before snapping it here in Game 3.
Henrik Lundqvist stopped 45 of 46 shots in backstopping the victory for the Rangers. He made eight saves in the first overtime, seven in the second OT, and two in the third. Lundqvist also caught a break when Alex Ovechkin's open shot hit the post during the first overtime.
Holtby faced 49 shots in total, finishing with 47 saves. He was tested more often during the extra periods than Lundqvist, with 22 shots coming his way---including six in the third and final OT. He had a few lucky breaks, as well, like when Gaborik hit the post in the third overtime and when Mike Rupp's wide open shot hit teammate Brian Boyle in the back with Holtby down on the ice during the second overtime.
Both teams had prime chances to end the game during the first overtime, but a combination of great goaltending and shot malfunction kept the score 1-1 after the first 20 minutes of overtime play. Washington's Troy Brouwer was stoned on the doorstep early in overtime by Lundqvist, and shortly thereafter Brouwer chipped a centering pass just wide of the cage while stationed in the low slot. However the Capitals best chance came with five minutes left in the initial overtime when Anton Stralman gave the puck up in front to Alex Ovechkin and Ovechkin fired a shot that beat Lundqvist, but caught the far post flush.
The Rangers best chances came after Alexander Semin was whistled for a tripping penalty at 17:32 of overtime. During one sequence Michael Del Zotto fired on Holtby, who left a rebound in front. Both Gaborik and Ryan Callahan had multiple whacks at the puck, but Holtby kept it out of his net, ensuring a second overtime in the process.
Both Girardi and Boyle suffered nasty cuts during overtime, but came back to play. Girardi was hit accidentally by Lundqvist's stick between the eyes and required stitches early in OT, while Boyle blocked a Semin shot in the final seconds, with the puck first hitting his shoulder then deflecting up to cut his jaw.
While the pace slowed somewhat in the second overtime, both teams showed tremendous courage blocking shots and battling for puck possession throughout. Callahan, in particular, stood out, blocking a pair of shots during seperate Caps rushes during the latter stages of the second overtime, while Washington's Matt Hendricks did his best to keep up with the Rangers captain on the other side of the ice. Callahan finished with five blocked shots while teammate Ryan McDonagh---who played an incredible 53:21---blocked a game-high eight shots.
After a scoreless first period the Rangers and Capitals exchanged goals in the middle stanza to head into the second intermission tied 1-1. Callahan scored a power play goal at 6:41 to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead with his third of the playoffs. Callahan collected a loose puck in the low slot and swept it into the open net after Del Zotto's left-point slap shot was deflected twice---by Washington's John Carlson and Hendricks---with the puck finally landing at the feet of Callahan.
Carlson gained his measure of revenge at 11:10 of the second when he scored his first goal of the playoffs, tying the game 1-1. The Caps caught a break when the puck bounced right back to Carlson after Marc Staal had poked it off his stick. Carlson then proceeded to whip a wrist shot past Lundqvist stick side.
Moments later Lundqvist came up huge for the visitors when he denied Brooks Laich on a 3-on-1 odd-man rush for Washington---the second 3-on-1 Lundqvist had successfully stared down in the game.
Lundqvist was forced to be an early difference maker as the Capitals came out flying on their home ice and took the game to the Rangers in the opening minutes of action. Lundqvist had five saves by the four-minute mark of the game, and he settled down his team, and slowly the Rangers began to get the better of the play, especially in the second period when the visitors had a distinct territorial advantage---if not one on the scoreboard.
Much of the third period was played in the Rangers end of the ice, though Washington managed only eight shots on goal in the period, with the Rangers blocking a slew of other chances. Both teams had a power play late in the third period---Mike Knuble whistled for goaltender interference with 5:35 to play, and Richards called for tripping with 3:48 remaining. Richards' penalty set the stage for a wild finish with the Rangers largely pinned in their end of the ice, blocking one shot after another in front of Lundqvist, who still had to make a few saves of his own to help force overtime.