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CAPITALS: Rangers’ Goal Brings A Bitter End To Three-Overtime Thriller

By ZAC BOYER | | @ZacBoyer

WASHINGTON – His legs heavy, his emotions spent, Braden Holtby took one belabored stride after another toward the Washington Capitals’ bench early Thursday morning, wishing the circumstances under which he was doing so were significantly more pleasant.

Regulation came and went. So did one overtime, and then another. The third game of the Western Conference playoff series between Nashville and Phoenix, which began two and a half hours after Holtby watched the puck drop, was in the books, and as the clock struck midnight, the goaltender, his Capitals and the New York Rangers continued on.

Only after a one-timer from Marian Gaborik late in the third overtime period were Holtby and the teams allowed off the ice, and the Rangers finally left Verizon Center after four hours and 34 minutes with a 2-1 victory in Game 3 of the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal series.

It was the third-longest game in Capitals history, and the fifth-longest for the Rangers, whose history dates back to 1926. And though the Capitals have won two of the four overtime games they’ve played this postseason, it was the first such victory for New York since 1971 – a span of seven losses.

Few advantages. Many opportunities. One goal. One victory.

“I think both teams fight very well, and that kind of moment, you know – you just have to use your chances,” Alex Ovechkin said. “One chance. One chance. They have it and they scored.”

Washington’s John Carlson and New York’s Ryan Callahan each scored in the second period, and another puck wouldn’t hit the inside of the net for over two hours.

When it did, it was nearly instantaneous. Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, on the right halfboards, swung the puck along the walls to Brad Richards, stationed behind the net and not too far to its left.

He in turn slid the puck forward to Gaborik, camped out no more than four feet in front of the crease, and the Rangers’ winger had no problem sending the puck past Holtby’s outstretched glove with 5:19 left in the third overtime and 12:14 a.m. on the clock.

Holtby, already down on his knees to play the puck, sat there motionless as the Rangers celebrated along the boards. The 22-year-old had already stopped 47 shots; another one wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.

“Maybe I’ll accept it after the fourth round, after we win,” Holtby said, referring to the Stanley Cup Finals. “But that’s my job.”

Though the game carried on, each team had opportunities to put it away long before the day expired. The Capitals most notably missed two chances – one nearly five minutes into the first overtime, when Troy Brouwer missed an open net from in front of the crease when he mishandled the puck, and another 10 minutes after that, when Ovechkin hit the right post after a turnover deep in the Rangers’ territory.

Ovechkin’s clank was torturous. Not only had the winger missed scoring by inches, the sirens went off behind the net, causing the crowd to leap to its feet in premature celebration.

“You need some luck,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. “You play three extra periods, there’s no way you’re going to win without luck. They hit the post a couple of times. We hit the post a couple of times. So, you just hope you’re going to be the winner in a game like this.”

Callahan scored his third goal of the playoffs 6:41 into the second period, scooping in a slap shot from defenseman Michael Del Zotto that first hit Carlson’s left leg and then that of Matt Hendricks before dropping right in front of him.

Carlson then made up for the unfortunate bounce after 11:10 had passed, managing to keep control of the puck after Marc Staal’s attempted poke check and launching an off-balance wrister past Lundqvist.

The Rangers will enter Game 4 of the series on Saturday – after an extra day off – with a 2-1 advantage. Despite the loss, Brouwer said the Capitals learned some things about themselves and their opponents that will hold for, well, a long time.

“Oh, it hurts. It definitely hurts,” Brouwer said. “But we’ve got to be proud of how well we played and the things that we did – creating scoring opportunities, guys are diving to block shots, collapsing to the house, doing a lot of the things we need to do to win hockey games. If we play like that most of the time, we’ll come out on top.”


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