Heck of a game.
It was the third longest game in Washington Capitals history. And if you know anything about that history, you also know that all previous games that went to a third overtime ended in Caps losses. On their home ice. Wednesday night, unfortunately, was no different.
Marian Gaborik, who’s been an invisible man for the New York Rangers in this series, finished a broken play, sliding the puck between Braden Holtby’s legs at 14:41 of the third overtime period, giving the Rangers a 2-1 win in Game 3, and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Semifinal series.
“”I felt as the game went longer and longer I felt our team was at an advantage,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said at about 12:30 am. “I think we have a mentally tough group.”
It seemed like the Rangers found another wind mid-way through the third overtime, pressuring the Caps defenseman more than in previous overtime periods. As is usually the case in these long games, one mistake meant the difference. Dan Girardi played the puck behind the Caps’ net and John Carlson took the long way around the cage, never catching up with the puck. Brad Richards collected and hit Gaborik, who shook free of Jay Beagle and was alone in the slot. Gaborik shoveled the puck between Holtby’s legs for his second playoff goal.
“It was a long game,” Gaborik said, understating things. “We were talking about staying with the system and make sure we keep it simple. It was about will.”
Both teams left it all on the ice. Girardi and Mike Knuble both needed stitches to close up wounds. Players left the ice hobbled, only to return for their next shift. These games kill fans, but it’s what these players live for.
Alex Ovechkin spoke about the intensity multiple overtime games bring. “It was that kind of game. I think both teams fought very well. That kind of moment, you just have to use your chances. They had it and they scored.”
Matt Hendricks concurred. “It’s tough. You invest a lot every night, no matter what; if it’s a 60-minute game or extended into overtime. When you extend into overtime you are investing more and more and you are putting everything you’ve got into it. Unfortunately we didn’t win tonight, but we can’t let tha bother us. We just need to get prepared for the next one.”
As you would expect in a 1-1 triple overtime affair, both goalies were tremendous. But both also got help from the posts, in regulation and in overtime. It was just that kind of game. Holtby recorded 47 saves, Henrik Lundqvist 45.
“Both teams went through it,” Caps coach Dale Hunter said after. “So we’re in the same boat. It’s just another game then. You gotta go on to the next game.”
Holtby, perhaps showing poise beyond his 22 years, said of the disappointing ending, “It’s a loss. It’s no different that any other one. A hard-fought battle. We will be ready for the next game.”
The first overtime saw the Caps get the best of the action. Troy Brouwer missed a wide open net off a scramble and Ovechkin jumped into an opportunity right off a line shift, picking up a turnover and ringing it off the right pipe past Lundqvist’s catching hand. The tumbling puck didn’t settle enough for Ovechkin to do much more than flick it in the general direction and he missed by the smallest of fractions.
Washington also had some very tense moments as the first overtime wound down. After a defensive zone draw, Alexander Semin reached for a loose puck and instead caught Ryan Callahan’s right skate, upending the forward and putting the Caps on the kill with 2:28 left in the frame. Callahan and Marian Gaborik got three whacks at a loose puck to the left of Holtby, but he had the cage blocked off. John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Brooks Laich all had length-of-ice clears during the kill.
The second overtime was a sluggish, bouncing-puck affair as slow legs and slushy ice combined to make for less-than exhilarating hockey. The Caps managed seven shots on goal; New York six. Neither team looked fresh as the toll of 100 minutes of hockey was obvious. The best chance came mid-way through when Brian Boyle and Holtby got tangled up, giving Mike Rupp ample space to operate. But the little-used checking forward hit Boyle in the rump while Holtby was pinned under Boyle, and the puck deflected harmlessly behind the net.
New York drew first blood, as Ryan Callahan stuffed a puck into an open goal on a power play with Brooks Laich off for hooking Marian Gaborik to the ice. Michael Del Zotto’s shot from the point defected off John Carlson and Matt Hendricks on the way through, and goalie Braden Holtby lost it in the maze of legs and skates.
The Caps equalized three and a half minutes later on a tremendous individual effort by Carlson. Carlson brought the puck up on the rush and cut to the center of the ice. Marc Staal tipped the puck off Carlson’s stick, but it bounced right back to Carlson. Staal, off balance, couldn’t get back in Carlson’s way and the missed timing seemed to throw Henrik Lundqvist off as well, as Carlson whipped a wrist shot past him to even the game.
In the end, though they played almost six full periods, it just counts as one game. Both teams have to put away the mental and physical exhaustion and focus on Saturday’s Game 4 now. It could be a pivotal point in the series, or could just even things up again. As closely as these two teams are playing and as evenly matched as they seem to be, I wouldn’t be placing any strong bets either way.
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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.