WASHINGTON - The New York Rangers played what amounted to two games over two days just to get one win against the Washington Capitals.
Each team scored a goal in the second period, then skated up and down the ice for the next 83 minutes before Marian Gaborik gave the Rangers a 2-1 victory at 14:41 of the third overtime to end the 20th longest game in the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs, a tense matchup that began on Wednesday night and spilled into Thursday.
If it was the decisive game of this tight Eastern Conference series, Rangers coach John Tortorella might have been far more enthusiastic about the outcome. Instead, he looked at the win for exactly what it was: a gritty performance that provided New York with a 2-1 lead in a best-of-7 confrontation that doesn't appear destined to end anytime soon.
"It's one game," Tortorella said in a conference call Thursday. "You take the good things out of it and try to keep momentum on your side."
It's impossible to say whether the good feeling the Rangers derived from the victory will carry into Saturday, when the teams meet in Washington for Game 4.
The Capitals trailed Boston 2-1 in games before winning in seven, so they have no reason to believe this loss to New York will be any more difficult to overcome.
"We have confidence in our team," Washington's Troy Brouwer said. "We played a real good game, I thought, holding them to one goal, almost, for two whole hockey games. I mean, if we continue playing like we did, creating offence, blocking shots, you know, playing good, patient hockey, we'll be successful."
Capitals coach Dale Hunter played in a four-overtime game and now has stood behind the bench over a three-overtime thriller. He lost both games, but neither of them ended a series.
"Well, you go into triple overtime it's a special game," Hunter said in the wee hours of Thursday morning. "But it's just one game and you got to bounce back."
Gaborik won it with a goal in the 115th minute. The game started at 7:40 p.m. on Wednesday and ended at 12:14 a.m. Thursday.
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was too exhausted to let out a yell afterward. More than excitement, he experienced relief.
"It's a feeling where, usually, I scream because I'm so excited. I was just too tired," Lundqvist said after his 45-save performance. "I kept saying 'Oh my God, it's over.' I mean, oh my God. It felt like it was never going to end. It's a special feeling, being a goalie and playing in overtime. All it takes is a bad decision, a mistake, and it's over. At the same time, you feel like every save makes a difference. It's a pretty cool feeling to be out there."
Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh played an amazing 53 minutes and 17 seconds, yet wouldn't have traded one of those shifts for the experience of playing such a memorable affair.
"It feels great to win that game. That's the best feeling ever," he said. "It's not really exhaustion when you win a game. You feel like all that effort paid off. That's the only way to put it."
The defeat conjured memories of Washington's 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh in 1996, a game that lasted four overtimes.
"Well, you're pretty drained after," Hunter said. "I think both teams would be pretty drained, and it's nice that both teams get two days to recoup. This way, they both get to come back and get two days of rest and you see a better hockey game."
Capitals associate goalie coach Olie Kolzig was in the net for Washington during that four-overtime affair against Pittsburgh and in the press box at Verizon Center on Wednesday night. As the game developed, he had a hunch a marathon was in the making.
"I actually called it," he said Thursday. "I said this has got the feeling of a double, triple overtime game. It just felt like a chess match. It wasn't wide-open hockey; it wasn't end-to-end chances. So you knew it was just a matter of a bad break or whatever team was going to be mistake-free."
New York got the goal that mattered, but the Rangers still need two more wins to get by the Capitals.
"I'm happy the team found a way. I'm happy the way they handled themselves," Tortorella said. "I'm not surprised the way they handled themselves. They'll probably have to do it again, and they'll probably have to do it again in this series. It's a win for us. I just don't want us to get too carried away because this is part of it. This is what you have to do. I don't think it's anything special. It's a good lesson for us early."