WASHINGTON – One hundred fourteen minutes and forty-one seconds of hockey. One hundred fourteen minutes and forty-one seconds of shots fired, shots blocked, shots saved and shots pinged off posts. One hundred fourteen minutes and forty-one seconds of burning legs, bloody sweaters and stitched skin.
"It felt like it was never going to end," said New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
But all good things must come to an end, and after the clock had struck midnight, after Wednesday had turned into Thursday, the puck rimmed around the boards behind the Washington Capitals' net. Brad Richards threw it in front. Marian Gaborik banged it home.
In a split second, it was over. The Rangers had defeated the Capitals 2-1 in triple overtime. Though it counted as only one game, giving New York a 2-1 lead in this second-round playoff series, it took nearly two games' worth of time and effort. It was the longest Rangers game since the 1930s and the third-longest in Capitals history.
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Defenseman Dan Girardi sat in the Rangers' dressing room afterward holding an energy drink. Blood oozed from a gash between his eyebrows – ripped open by an errant stick in the first OT, held together by three big stitches – while another liquid dripped from his skates hanging upside down overhead. It wasn't coming from the bottom of the blades; it was coming from the inside of the boots. It wasn't water; it was sweat.
"It's pretty tough, but that's kind of part of the game," said Girardi, who played 44:22 and wasn't even close to leading his team in ice time. "Playoff hockey's like that. Sudden-death overtime … It looked like it might have been going four."
The Capitals' dressing room was both despondent and defiant. Defenseman Karl Alzner stated the obvious: "That's extremely, extremely disappointing. Whenever you lose in overtime it sucks, but when you lose in triple overtime, it's even worse." Goaltender Braden Holtby, a 22-year-old rookie, made a bold statement: "Maybe I'll accept it after the fourth round, after we win."
The fourth round? Wow. The Capitals have to win this round before they can win the Stanley Cup, and they have to come back from this loss before they can win this round. But Holtby said: "If I focus on every shot, play to the best of my abilities, with the group we have, I'm confident we'll win four out of seven."
Maybe Holtby was just emotional. Maybe he was just trying to rally his teammates. Or maybe when you survive something like this – even in a loss – you feel like you can do anything.
This game was almost dead even. The faceoff percentage was 51-49, Washington. The shots were 49-46, New York. The blocked shots were 41-40, New York. Both teams sacrificed their bodies. The Rangers' Brian Boyle took a puck in the chin. The Capitals' Mike Knuble had a red badge of courage above his left eye. "Probably half the players on the ice have blood on their jersey by the end of it," said Washington center Brooks Laich.
Ryan Callahan, the Rangers captain, a force all over the ice the whole night, scored in the second period for the Rangers. John Carlson responded for the Capitals. Both teams had excellent scoring chances afterward but couldn't cash in – like when Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin rang a shot off the right post in the first overtime, the horn blew and, for a moment, the fans started celebrating.
Rangers coach John Tortorella said it became a mental game, a matter of not giving in. This is what he meant:
"I caught myself thinking during the game a couple times … [about] how much effort you put into this to try to win, and if you lose, it would be tough," Lundqvist said. "But then you have to block that thought right away and stay positive, and I try not to think too much about the outcome. Just focus on my game and what I have to do."
Not that there wasn't a physical toll. CBC reported the Capitals' training staff ran out for bananas during overtime. Alzner said some guys ate white rice with soy sauce. The Rangers had fruit and bagels available, and after the game, their dressing room was littered with half-eaten PowerBars. There were even packages of organic chocolate-covered espresso beans. Anything for energy. Anything for an edge.
The Rangers wanted to believe they had the edge because of Tortorella's tough training camps, tough practices and tough style. They told themselves so in the room to pump themselves up. And there is truth to that. They essentially used only five defensemen, with Stu Bickel glued to the bench (3:24), while Ryan McDonagh (53:21) and Marc Staal (49:30) kept playing and playing and playing.
"It's not really exhaustion when you win a game," McDonagh said. "You feel like all that effort paid off."
But the larger truth is that the Capitals were right there with them, just as mentally and physically tough, just an inch away from winning themselves on multiple occasions. One team beat another, but one team wasn't necessarily better than the other. One team did not want it more.
"Oh, it hurts," Capitals winger Troy Brouwer said. "It definitely hurts. But we’ve got to be proud of how well we played and the things that we did – creating scoring opportunities. Guys are diving to block shots, collapsing to the house, doing a lot of the things we need to do to win hockey games. If we play like that most of the time, we’ll come out on top.”
One hundred fourteen minutes and forty-one seconds of hockey. All good things come to an end.
"It's a feeling where, usually I scream and am so excited," Lundqvist said. "I was just too tired."
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