To say it’s been a tight postseason for the Washington Capitals would be a gross understatement. This spring, games have been decided by one shift, one bounce, one shot or one save — the margin for error is minuscule. Game 3 of the Capitals’ second-round series against the New York Rangers on Wednesday night at Verizon Center offered the most nerve-wracking test yet.
Marian Gaborik scored the game-winner 14 minutes 41 seconds into the third overtime — the game’s 115th minute of play — to secure a 2-1 win for the Rangers, who seized a two-games-to-one advantage over the Capitals in this Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The game was the Capitals’ fifth out of 10 this postseason to go to overtime, and their ninth decided by one goal. The third-longest game in franchise history added to the team’s legacy of marathon heartbreakers: All four games in Capitals history to go three or more overtimes have come at home, and all of them have ended in losses.
Adding to the sting of Wednesday’s defeat were the number of missed opportunities.
“That’s extremely, extremely disappointing,” Karl Alzner said. “Whenever you lose in overtime it sucks, but when you lose in triple overtime it’s even worse. We had so many chances and they either blocked it or [Henrik] Lundqvist came up with the save, or we hit a post. That just makes it even more frustrating.”
Said Alex Ovechkin: “It think it was that kind of game. Both teams fight very well, and that kind of moment, you know — you just have to use your chances. One chance. One chance. They have it and they scored. Unfortunately, we have before, that three-on-two, four-on-two, and we didn’t use it.”
The marathon outing was first triple-overtime game in the NHL since April 22, 2010, between Pittsburgh and Ottawa. It also marked the end of a seven-game losing streak for New York in playoff overtime games. The Rangers’ last postseason victory in extra time came April 29, 2007, in the second round against the Buffalo Sabres.
Gaborik snapped an eight-game scoreless streak with the tally, which was set up by veteran center Brad Richards from behind the goal line. Richards fed the puck to Gaborik out in front for a shot that beat Braden Holtby between the pads.
The goal ended stunning performances by both netminders. Holtby finished with 47 saves while Lundqvist, a finalist for the Vezina and Hart trophies, made 45. The Capitals’ rookie goaltender was his usual stoic self after the loss.
“Maybe I’ll accept it after the fourth round, after we win,” Holtby said, alluding to the Stanley Cup finals. “But that’s my job. My job is to stop pucks and to win games and I believe if I focus on every shot and play to the best of my abilities, with the group we have I’m confident we’ll win four games out of seven.”
The Capitals came out buzzing in their best start to any game of the second round, pinning New York in its own end for much of the opening frame and challenging Lundqvist to be alert early. He was up to the task.
Lundqvist turned away a shot by Jason Chimera on a two-on-one with Alexander Semin, a wide-open look by Joel Ward and a nasty snap shot by Ovechkin, among others.
As play continued it was also clear that Ovechkin was not only going to get more ice time than he did in Game 2 but that the star left wing was determined to make his presence known.
Ovechkin skated 7:35 in the first period, tops among Capitals forwards, and punctuated his shifts with thunderous checks. On one shift, Ovechkin set up Marcus Johansson for a nice open shot, knocked down Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, fired a tricky shot on Lundqvist and then had another explosive collision with Staal.
Ovechkin finished with 35:14 of ice in the game, and although he didn’t record a point he had five shots on goal and was credited with nine hits.
Despite Washington’s success at pushing the pace, the teams went into the first intermission scoreless. The beginning of the second brought a surge from the Rangers, who outshot the home team 7-1 to kick off the period. They would also crack the scoreboard first.
Ryan Callahan made it 1-0 New York with a power-play goal at 6:41 of the second. A shot by Michael Del Zotto went off John Carlson’s skate, then the thigh of Matt Hendricks before hopping toward Callahan on the right side of the net. Before Holtby or the rest of the Capitals could react, the Rangers’ captain swept the puck into the open net.
It wouldn’t be long before Washington answered. Carlson weaved his way into the offensive zone on an end-to-end rush. Staal, the Rangers’ blue-liner, tried to poke-check the puck away, but it bounced off back to Carlson off his feet, and he rifled a shot to the upper left-hand corner of the net to tie the game at 11:10 of the second. It was Carlson’s first goal of the postseason.
The Capitals had a superb chance to break the stalemate with little more than five minutes left in the period when the second line — Chimera, Brooks Laich and Semin — found themselves on a three-on-one rush. But Laich’s close-range wrister from the slot was thwarted by Lundqvist.
“We had our chances,” said Hendricks, who had his best game of the season with a game-high 11 hits and six shots on goal. “We had some really good opportunities, a couple of posts. Just didn’t find the back of the net and they got the last bounce. It’s what we expected against the Rangers.”
The physical tone and frantic pace continued in the third period, led by Hendricks. He scrambled for an early scoring chance at the start of the period and rocked Staal on a sandwich hit along with Troy Brouwer.
Both teams earned power plays the final six minutes of regulation. First Mike Knuble was sent to the penalty box for goaltender interference with 5:35 to go in the third, then Richards was whistled for tripping with 3:48 left. But neither team managed a single shot on net in those advantages, and the game pressed on into overtime.
Through the first two overtimes, rounds of offensive flurries came and went for each team. Numerous shots sailed wide, and they combined to block 25 more. For every attempt that was made to close out the contest, there was an equally strong effort to keep the puck from even reaching the goaltenders. In all, the teams were credited with 81 blocked shots.
“You look around the ice and probably half the players on the ice have blood on their jersey by the end of it,” Laich said. “It’s a good hockey game — very tight, good hockey game. We werent able to get the goal, but no reason to hang your head or pout. We were right there. We’ve got to rebound. We’ll get a couple days of rest and a practice and come back for Game 4.”