On the Rebound


Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty

Wednesday night’s game between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, which bled in to Thursday morning, was en epic clash of two big, strong, physical teams.  The game stretched to three overtimes.  By the end, players were bloodied and sucking down energy supplements.  It was four hours and 34 minutes of war.

“Oh my god,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. “I thought it would never end.”

Eventually it did end, 14 minutes and 41 seconds in to the third overtime.  Brad Richards won a battle behind Braden Holtby’s net and fed the puck in front to Marian Gaborik, who had not scored since game one of the first round.  Gaborik was able to chip it through Holtby’s legs just before the rookie could slam his pads shut.

And that was that.  The Rangers took a two games to one series lead, and left the Verizon Center crowd shocked and stunned.  For the Capitals, it left them a long two days before Saturday afternoon’s game four.  Washington had their chances, and they simply were not able to convert on them.

“It was that kind of game. I think both teams fought very well. That kind of moment, you just have to use your chances,” said captain Alex Ovechkin. “They had it and they scored. Unfortunately we had it during that 4-on-2 and we didn’t use it.  I think we had a great chance to score some goals, but [Henrik] Lundqvist made the save.”

Ovechkin, who has been probed and prodded this postseason because of his erratic ice time, had the best chance of any of the overtimes.  Less then ten minutes into the first overtime, Ovechkin jumped the boards and went down the heart of the ice, intercepting a clearing pass from New York defenseman Anton Stralman and had a clear shot at the net.

The horn went off.  The spotlights went on.  The crowd erupted.  But the puck stayed out.  Ovechkin had hit the right post, beating Lundqvist’s outstretched glove hand but not the red iron surrounding the net.

“That kind of opportunity, you just have to put it in,” said Ovechkin.

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This is not the type of moment or game that you want to define your season.  Unfortunately, that is the danger that now faces these Washington Capitals.  To go that far in to a game on your home ice, in the playoffs, in such a pivotal game in the series, can be a really gutting experience.

“It’s tough. You invest a lot every night, no matter what; if it’s a 60-minute game or extended into overtime,” said Matt Hendricks, who put up a heroic performance in game three.  “When you extend into overtime you are investing more and more and you are putting everything you’ve got into it. Unfortunately, we didn’t win tonight, but we can’t let that bother us. We just need to get prepared for the next one.”

“It’s a loss. It’s no different than any other one,” said Braden Holtby, magnificent in defeat once more.  “A hard fought battle. We will be ready for the next game.”

But for a franchise that has missed so many opportunities in the postseason over the last four seasons, the scars run deep.  Not only on the fans, but on the players.  Ovechkin, Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Brooks Laich haven’t had that signature overtime moment yet in their careers.  Not one of them has yet had the ability to put the team on their back and carry them to a series defining victory.  Jason Chimera did it last spring against the Rangers, but that was in the first round.

And as unfair as it may be, questions will continue to rise about their big game ability until they have that moment.  Games like Wednesday’s are how perceptions are changed and reinforced.  Unfortunately, it was the latter.

This series is not over, not by a long shot.  The mental response is what is key here, and for a team that has struggled with such mental letdowns in the past.  Make no mistake, this is a tough game to rebound from.  No matter how much you say that you need to not dwell on the result, it’s only human instinct to have that thought in the back of your head.

“The impact is that we’re up a game,” said a surprisingly open John Tortorella after the game.  “They have to win three, we have to win two.”

Nevertheless, after a day off Thursday, and a practice Friday, the Capitals get a new chance to go after it and try and bring home a win for their home fans, which they have only been able to do one time in this postseason.  Once again, they have a chance to break the trend, and come up with a huge win.  That’s the best part of the NHL playoffs.  Unless it’s game seven, of course.  There’s usually a tomorrow, and one game doesn’t usually mean everything.

After all, the last three teams to win a game in triple overtime or beyond went on to lose the series.

This game was a series definer, but it didn’t decide the result.  If the Capitals do this right, they look at it as fuel and ignore the mental parameters and difficulties that such a loss can inflict.

Holtby, who continues to prove his worth with every passing day, said it best.

“Maybe I’ll accept it after the fourth round, where we win.”

Wouldn’t that be something?

Harry Hawkings is a college student who covers the Capitals for RtR.  Follow him on Twitter here.