May 3, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; New York Rangers players celebrate after right wing Marian Gaborik (10) scored the game-winning goal against the Washington Capitals in the third overtime of game three in the Eastern Conference semifinals of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center. The Rangers won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE
Every coach and every player likes to preach the company line that one game is one game and it has no bearing on the next one. It's hard to believe that's the case after the New York Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals in triple overtime in Wednesday night's (or Thursday morning's) game.
It wasn't like the win put the Rangers ahead in the series in commanding fashion -- they're still only up 2-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinal series. It's tough to imagine, though, this not being the momentum changer of this series. When you play 114 minutes, 41 seconds of hockey and come out on top, even to the casual viewer, one team surely has the ability to ride the "high," while the other takes a huge punch to the gut. What makes this victory even sweeter for the Rangers, no matter how much coach John Tortorella and his players want to brush it off, was how it was done and who it was done by. It was a win that typified the Rangers' season -- one that gave them the No. 1 seed in the East. It was done in a road building, at Verizon Center -- a place New York hadn't won at in five games. And most of all, possibly the best news to come from this game, the game-winner was put home by the struggling Marian Gaborik.
After an up-and-down, fast-paced first period in which the Rangers called on Henrik Lundqvist to be his other-worldly self, the Blueshirts calmed down a bit and took the crowd out of it in the second period on Ryan Callahan's power play goal. With the way the Rangers were playing in the second period, it looked like this was going to be the goal to help propel them forward in this series ... until John Carlson tied it with a beautiful one nearly five minutes later.
In a playoff game, on the road, it's easy to see a team "roll over" after a shift in momentum like that. But these are the Rangers, and we've all seen them stick with it all season. They don't get fazed. They control the momentum swings within a game as good as anyone in the league. They pay attention to the details of the game and seemed to tighten up as the game went a long. So, when they got a late power play in the third period in which they generated next to nothing -- and then took a penalty minutes later, they kept fighting. Two times in the overtime periods, the Rangers had power plays and chances to end the game. And twice, they failed to do much of anything. But it didn't matter.
As Ryan McDonagh played an unbelievable 53:17, Marc Staal saw the ice for 49:34 and three others got 40-plus-minutes of ice time, the Rangers kept grinding away, blocking shots and throwing their bodies on the line. Never did any Ranger shy away from going all out to make a difference on every play -- even as the legs became tired, the body's limits close to being reached. Three players blocked five or more shots: Callahan (five), Dan Girardi (six) and McDonagh (eight). Three players doled out five or more hits: Brian Boyle (nine), Girardi (six) and Staal (six). And a number left with blood on their jerseys. Lundqvist talked about the mental toughness a game like this requires. Gaborik spoke how the Rangers had to "will" themselves to victory. Whatever attribute they needed, they found it within themselves to not let in and keep playing until the game ended with the result they desired.
Perhaps most encouraging is that the playoff "goat, " Gaborik, scored the game-winner 14:19 into the third overtime off of a feed from Brad Richards. Gaborik hadn't scored since Game 1 of the playoffs, he had just 14 goals in 42 career playoff games and many were criticizing his play and whether he had "it" in the playoffs. After a 41-goal season, it's hard to believe the Rangers contending long-term if their most gifted scorer wasn't engaged. This could be the game that gets the monkey off his back.
And this could be the game that defines the series -- and maybe the playoffs -- for the Rangers.