The game was over in the first overtime. Matt Hendricks crushed Ryan McDonagh with a clean hit, took the puck and fed Troy Brouwer with a backhand pass to the front of the Rangers' net. A shot into a wide open right part and the Washington Capitals would be going to Game 4 with a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals. But Brouwer simply missed it, wide right.
The game was over in the second overtime. Mike Rupp had Caps goalie Braden Holtby committed, the upper part of the net exposed. Lift the puck into that wide open space and the Rangers would reach Game 4 with a 2-1 lead. But that easy-as-you-please game-winner ended up being blocked by Brian Boyle, Rupp's own teammate.
Those were the what-if scenarios for the fans of each team as the game headed to a third extra session on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center. One of the cheering tribes was going to look back in anguish on the aforementioned happenings. It turned out to be the Caps' fans, thanks to Marian Gaborik's goal at 12:14 a.m. Eastern time; 14:41 of the third OT.
There is a tendency to call any contest that runs this long a true classic, one that will live on in the all-time hockey memory bank. But this is only half-true. Fact is, the first two-thirds of this game were kind of a yawner played between teams that prefer to chip it in instead of put all their chips in one big pile. But, boy, did the match get good when it went to the next full game. As NBC's leather-lunged play-by-play man Mike "Doc" Emrick nicely said, "There were three games played tonight in the NHL, two of them right here."
The Rangers finally ended it, when Gaborik finished off a play that started innocently enough in the neutral zone. Grabbing a loose puck in the zone, Gaborik backhanded a pass to linemate Brad Richards, who dumped it into the Caps' end, around the dasher. Defenseman Dan Girardi, on the right half-boards, pushed it back behind the Caps' net. Richards took it from there, put a nice little backhand pass out front to Gaborik,who put a little one-timer past Holtby. Game over -- after 114 minutes 41 seconds of hockey.
"It came out nice, right on my stick, and he buried it," Richards told NBC.
There were so many near misses and great plays for both sides as well as 81 blocked shots (41 for New York, 40 for Washington). Girardi, whose face looked like the aftermath of a razor blade attack, blocked six. Teammate McDonagh led all players with eight. Hendricks, the Caps' depth centerman, had a game-high 11 hits -- including the one on McDonagh that on almost any other night probably would have led to the winning goal.
No account of this game would be complete without mention of the two goalies, Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers. New York outshot Washington, 49-46, with too many highlight saves to mention. And no account of the game would be complete without special mention of McDonagh, who logged an incredible 53:17 of ice time.
"We kept asking him, 'are you OK?'" Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "He's mentally tough. As the game went longer and longer, I felt like we had an advantage. It becomes a mental game. Just don't give in. That becomes the game."
Caps star Alex Ovechkin probably didn't sleep well after the game. He hit the right post on a shot with five minutes left in the first OT. Teammate Jason Chimera hit the pipe in the third OT. Then again, Gaborik hit the pipe just before that. He didn't miss on the final shot of the game, though.
"That's an emotional win," Richards said. "But it's just one game, one win."
Doesn't seem fair, does it? You play almost two full games, but get credit for just one win.
The Rangers, though, will take it.