To get a sense for the mood in the Rangers' dressing room after Wednesday's 4-3, double-overtime loss to the Capitals, all one had to do was look into the eyes of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
He sat in his locker stall and he blinked slowly as the questions came at him fast, sweat pouring from his brow. The 29-year-old Swede was completely spent after facing 53 shots and overcoming leg cramps brought on by dehydration in a game that lasted 92 minutes 36 seconds.
“It was so warm,” said Lundqvist, who appeared to be in some discomfort late in the contest. “It was a pretty tiring game. The toughest part was to stay focused. It's definitely a test for you when you play in a long game, an intense game.”
The physical exhaustion was magnified in the New York dressing room not only by the loss, but the dispiriting manner in which it all unfolded. The Rangers blew a 3-0 lead in the third period – they entered the game with a record of 29-0 when leading after two periods – then fumbled away the chance to even the series on a broken play in the second extra session.
Lundqvist was attempting to cover the puck when his teammate, Marian Gaborik, poked it away. The puck then hit Capitals grinder Jason Chimera, who effortlessly deposited it behind the sprawled goalie at 12:36.
Fifteen minutes after the game, Lundqvist still wondered what exactly happened.
“Gabby, I think, tried to put it behind the net,” he said. “It hits their guy. I really don't know what to say. It's just really frustrating.”
Lundqvist added that he did not have any communication with Gaborik as the two converged at the top of the crease.
“It all happened so fast,” Lundqvist said. “I thought he saw me coming. He probably didn't it. It's just a really tough bounce.”
Asked how the Rangers regroup from such a disastrous defeat, he said:
“It's going to be tough until tomorrow. Then you just have to move on.
“You can't get stuck here. I don't know how much I'm going to sleep tonight. I'm going to think about what happened, what I could have done differently.”
Losing on a “nothing play,” as Coach John Tortorella called it, hurt.
What figures to haunt the Rangers more over the coming 48 hours – if not longer – will be how a defensively sound team squandered a such a comfortable lead in the third period.
“Well, we turned it over,” Tortorella said, referring to Ryan McDonagh's giveaway that led to Alexander Semin's goal. “We gave them two free ones. We turn it over and lose our coverage on a back door play.”
“We stopped making plays as it went on,” he added. “We struggled a bit. We looked nervous. I thought we gathered ourselves once we got through it and got to overtime.”
The Rangers also were left to lament a power play that came up empty on seven opportunities, including one in double overtime when they failed to capitalize on a gift of a too-many-men penalty. They mustered only four shots with the man advantage Wednesday, and are now 1 for 18 in the series.
“It's been a struggle,” Tortorella conceded. “We've tried a lot of different people. It just hasn't worked. That means our penalty killing has to be that much better until we find a way to score a power play goal.”
As devastated as the Rangers' room felt, Marc Staal said the Blueshirts can draw from their 2009 quarterfinal series against the Caps as they attempt to rally from a three-games-to-one deficit. After all, they've experienced it firsthand.
“It's a tough way to lose a game, obviously,” he said. “But we get a couple of days here to regroup. We're not out of it. They've come back against us. Now we have to do that same.”