- Last Updated: 8:35 AM, May 8, 2012
- Posted: 3:29 AM, May 8, 2012
The Rangers have recorded two of the most dramatic victories in franchise playoff history within six days, but there is still one more victory in the Eastern Conference semifinals to get.
The Rangers were 6.6 seconds away from death’s doorstep last night before escaping to record a breathtaking 3-2 Game 5 overtime victory over the Capitals at Madison Square Garden that reverberated across the Manhattan skyline, perhaps to Newark or Philadelphia.
There was the 3-2 triple overtime victory in Game 3 last Wednesday/Thursday in Washington that was a test of perseverance, and now there is this different manner of epic. Brad Richards pulled the Rangers away from the precipice by scoring at 19:53 of the third period on the first half of a power play double-minor incurred by Joel Ward at 19:38, and Marc Staal then propelled his team to a potential Game 6 clincher tomorrow night in Washington by converting the second half of the power play 1:35 into overtime.
Valeri Zelepukin once scored for the Devils with 7.7 seconds to go in a fairly famous Game 7 at the Garden, and Chris Drury once scored for the Sabres with 7.7 seconds on the clock in an infamous Game 5 in Buffalo, but the magic number was six point six. And it became one to remember for all time because No. 19 would not be denied, not when he pushed the puck through a desperate Braden Holtby after a few jam tries by Ryan Callahan, and not all night in a match where Richards and linemates Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin were relentless every step of the way.
“I wasn’t even looking at the time, you just feel like you’re going to get a chance coming down the stretch and someone would have to bury it,” said Richards, who won a left wing draw back to Michael Del Zotto with 21.3 seconds remaining in regulation to start the game-tying sequence, with Henrik Lundqvist on the bench in favor of the extra attacker.
“We’ve all played hockey long enough to know you’re going to get a chance when you’re on the power play and the goalie is pulled.”
Perhaps someone should have whispered that to Lundqvist, who had been superb in the third after the Caps had taken a 2-1 lead on John Carlson’s power-play goal at 4:20 of the period, but who admitted he had already resigned himself to disappointment as the clock ticked into single digits.
“When it got to 10 seconds … I was already thinking about the next game, I’m going to be honest with you,” Lundqvist said. “Then it was from a low to a high in a second, and with only [6.6] seconds left, I’m glad I got the chance to regroup in the locker room during intermission and think about what I needed to do.”
The Rangers had been unable to get a shot on net in their first three power plays. But when Staal ripped one from the top following John Mitchell’s right circle face-off win to complete the daily double on the four-minute minor Ward incurred for cutting Hagelin’s mouth with his stick, those failures were reduced to minutia.
It is true the Rangers needed a fable-like finish to gain the victory, but this was one they earned, dominating most of the night, getting the puck down low and going to work off a rolling thunder of a forecheck that produced a 38-18 advantage in shots and a 78-35 edge in attempts that was 28-12 after one and 55-22 after two.
And the attack was led by the Richards line that crashed through traffic all night in combining for nine shots (seven by Gaborik, one apiece for Richards and Hagelin) and 25 attempts (10 by Gaborik, nine by the 2004 Conn Smythe winner).
“I’m so happy those guys got it done,” said Brian Boyle. “The three of those guys were unbelievable for us. And then for Staalsie to get the winner.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game like this before.”
But there is still one more victory to get in order to reach the conference finals for the first time since 1997, and to assure this is not just a footnote but a stepping stone.
“The message has already been sent,” Richards said. “We need to back this one up the way we backed up our Game 6 win in Ottawa in Game 7 and much better than the way we didn’t back up that triple-overtime win.”
Oh, that one.