NEW YORK -- New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist probably deserved a little better. Despite finishing with 49 saves, including a spectacular denial to Washington Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin in the game's first overtime, the netminder just had to watch Wednesday night as Washington winger Jason Chimera cashed in on a goal in the second overtime that seemingly materialized out of nowhere.
"It was just a nothing play that turns into something," Rangers head coach John Tortorella said. "Obviously something big."
As Lundqvist came out of his crease to control a blocked shot in the slot, winger Marian Gaborik, coming in late and behind the play, reached out and poke-checked the puck back behind his goalie. Gaborik said he didn't see Lundqvist coming out in time, that he had already committed by the time he realized his goalie could handle it. But the puck instead blooped behind Lundqvist and hit Chimera in the chest, landing right in front of an open net. And just like that, he gave Washington a 4-3 win and a 3-1 series lead.
"As a hockey player, you want the game on your stick," the veteran left wing said. "It was just nice to get that goal."
It wasn't very long before that the Rangers looked like they would head back to Washington, D.C. with the series tied at 2-2. With New York holding a 3-0 lead late in the second period, Madison Square Garden began to rumble confidently.
Behind the Capitals bench, Washington coach Bruce Boudreau perhaps regretted waking the beast of MSG. After Game 3, the coach had given his assessment of the arena and its fans on a D.C. sports radio show. "Well, the one thing, its reputation is far better than the actual building," Boudreau said on the Kirk and Mike Show. "I mean, it's nothing. The locker rooms are horrible. The benches are horrible. ... Also, our building's a lot louder, too. So I mean, they can say what they want, but it's not that loud in there."
Memo to Bruce Boudreau: Challenge New Yorkers at your own peril. (After the game, the coach demurred: "I may have made a mistake in saying that, and let's leave it at that.")
But, as it turned out, the Capitals had their own message to send to New Yorkers. The chant that may have been born as ridicule became a rallying cry for the Caps, who charged out of the second period break and fairly promptly erased a three-goal deficit.
"We just [wanted] to build momentum for the next game," Chimera said of the team's mindset coming into the third period. "We felt like if we could get one, we could get rolling. We have a lot of horsepower to do it, and I can't say enough about our effort coming back. The will of this team is pretty good."
Less than three minutes into the third, Alexander Semin intercepted the puck and whipped a shot at Lundqvist, who had been perfect up to that point. The puck squirmed out of his gear and flirted on the goal line before Lundqvist reached back to cover it, but it wouldn't die. The puck came loose in the crease, and Semin stuffed it in, breathing life into the Capitals' offense. Less than a minute later, rookie Marcus Johansson cut the deficit to one, tipping in a shot by Brooks Laich, and the Madison Square Garden crowd that had boomed so confidently just four minutes ago began to squirm. The Rangers began to roil.
"I think we got tight all of a sudden," Rangers captain Chris Drury said. "In between periods, we talked about staying with our game. We just got away from it. We weren't making plays. We got tight, and we were on our heels."
Midway through the third period, just after a Rangers penalty had expired, it was Johansson again who deflected a point shot by defenseman John Carlson with his skate past Lundqvist. And, just like that, in less than 10 minutes, the Rangers had squandered the three-goal lead they had built off goals from forwards Artem Anisimov, Marian Gaborik and Brandon Dubinsky -- the latter two coming just seven seconds apart -- and each assisted by winger Ruslan Fedotenko, who was the Rangers' best skater on the ice.
"We stopped making plays as it went on," New York coach John Tortorella said. "We struggled a little bit. We looked nervous."
It seemed uncharacteristic for the Rangers, who had been 29-0 when holding a lead going into third periods this season. Drury remarked that his team looked like two different squads between the second and third period. "I don't think they did anything different," he said. "We were a different team."
Despite all that's been made of Washington's defensive makeover this season, it showed that if given the space and the opportunity, it can still be the offensively punishing team that the league got to know the last couple years. Ovechkin had a handful of golden chances snuffed out by Lundqvist late in the game. In the first overtime period, Semin alone launched 10 shots toward the goalie: three were on net, three were blocked and two went wide. He finished with team-high seven shots on goal, and six came after the second period.
The question, however, remains if the Capitals have whatever it takes to close a series out in anything less than seven games. (They haven't played less than seven in a series since 2006.) Their gritty victory was one step toward proving they do.