It was over 100 minutes of blood and a whole lot of sweat, punctuated by brief respites where players could recharge, refuel, and rehydrate.
Until that final goal by Marian Gaborik in the third overtime, it was difficult to tell which team—the Capitals or the Rangers—had finished first and which had squeaked into seventh place in the regular season. At other times it was hard to tell in whose net stood the potential 2012 Vezina, Hart and Lindsay award winner and which net housed the 22-year-old NHL rookie. Henrik Lundqvist ended up stoppin 45 of 46 shots. Braden Holtby stopped 47 of 49.
The happy ending for the hard-working Rangers—53-plus minutes for Ryan McDonagh—doesn’t negate the fact that the Capitals came to play, and their coaching staff had every guy on their roster ready to contribute.
“A lot,” Caps forward Matt Hendricks said when asked how much credit the coaching staff deserved for having the team prepared to play last night. “We were ready. Both teams were ready, I think.”
“Dale said right before the game, his first comment before we went on the ice was, ‘It’s gonna be a grinding game’,” forward Brooks Laich said. “And it was a grinding game to a ‘T.'”
“They’ve done a great job. They’ve let us kind of figure things out, and just do our thing out there, play hockey, and tell us to have fun and to make sure we know the main things, the important things. ,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “I think they did a great job today with keeping guys fresh.”
And there were the unsung heroes, including Alzner’s relentless defensive play along the boards on the Rangers’ Anton Stralman in the Caps’ zone which set up the rush that led to the Capitals’ only goal. Alzner didn’t even initially get credit for his help; he had gone off the ice just before defensive partner John Carlson scored and received no plus/minus credit. Eventually, the scoring would be changed to give Alzner a secondary assist. There were also two huge Capitals’ penalty kills during the extra time, one in the first overtime and one in the third.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned Hendricks led the Caps in shots (6) and hits (11). After the game, finally done unlacing his skates and taking them off, Hendricks looked understandably tired.
“Yeah,” he said when asked if Wednesday was probably the most exhausted he’d been after a hockey game. “Pretty exhausting. It was a great hockey game. It was a great battle by both teams.”
Laich, meanwhile, said he thought some guys on the bench still looked like they had their legs as the game went deeper and deeper.
Overall, the Capitals played solid, but Alzner was still talking afterwards about making impovements. The key to winning in this series, he indicated, is remaining calm and not getting too high or low emotionally.
That theme echoed through the locker room, from goaltender to top forward.
“It’s a loss. It’s no different than any other one. A hard fought battle. We will be ready for the next game. It was a good game,” Holtby said afterwards to reporters.
And Laich, who seemed one emotion down from upbeat after the game, had a similar assessment.
“We weren’t able to get the goal, but no reason to hang your head or pout. We were right there,” Laich said. “Mentally, we’ll park it.”