NEW YORK – As far as predictable goes, these playoffs have been anything but. Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Rangers and the Capitals topped that – this game was unpredictable moment to moment.
The Rangers set the tone for the game immediately, establishing their strong presence and scoring halfway through the first period. Nevertheless, 49 minutes later, despite 33 shots on goal and 24 more shots that were blocked by the Washington Capitals, the New York Rangers were trailing by one goal. With 21.3 seconds left on the clock, Carl Hagelin drew a four-minute penalty for high-sticking, of which three and a half seemed wasteful. On the bench, Henrik Lundqvist was thinking about the next game. By the bench, Carl Hagelin wiped the blood off his face, and hurried back to where the action was. In the stands, the fans were on their feet, and while their hope was dwindling, they were determined to show their belief and support.
“It’s awesome,” captain Ryan Callahan said after the game. “They supported us all night. Twenty seconds left, they’re standing up chanting ‘Let’s go, Rangers!’ That fuels you. That makes you feel good. To be able to get that one for them and hear the Garden explode – I haven’t heard it that loud since I’ve been here.”
With 6.6 seconds left on the clock, the Rangers’ efforts throughout the game finally paid off, and the thirty sixth shot on goal was it. “I think it’s fitting that Richie (Brad Richards) gets the one to tie it up there,” said Ryan Callahan. Brad Richards is no stranger to final seconds goals – on December 17th, he scored the game-winning goal against Coyotes’ Mike Smith in the final second of the game. So he really did have 6.5 seconds to spare here. “We’ve been talking about it all year,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “Not only on the ice but off the ice, to have a guy like that – he knows what it takes. You could tell when games are getting tighter, more important, he plays better. I think he likes the intensity in games like that. It just shows what type of player he really is.” Carl Hagelin was in agreement with Henrik Lundqvist’s assessment of Brad Richards: “I think he’s probably been that ‘go to’ guy his entire life. He knows what it takes to win, he IS a winner.”
“Would you take another high-stick to the face if it means two goals?” I ask Carl Hagelin, lip swollen, after the game, and I immediately know the answer, even before he has a chance to respond. His quick skate to the bench and back after being struck said it all. “I didn’t want to get off the ice there, it was a key part of the game. Just try to wipe some of the blood off, and then get going again.”
What seemed like a miraculous comeback was actually the result of the effort that had been there the whole game. “If you look at the blocked shots, we didn’t block many shots because we’ve had the puck,” said coach John Tortorella, pleased with both the outcome and his team’s performance. Henrik Lundqvist had similar thoughts: “The way we played tonight, we worked so hard. It was tough for us to get in front and create real good scoring chances, but we were shooting a lot and had a lot of energy. I definitely think we deserved this win. We worked so hard.”
They also never gave up. “We stuck with it,” said Ryan Callahan. They looked at a power play, an extra attacker, and 21.3 seconds on the clock as an opportunity, ignoring lack of success on the seven previous power plays. “That’s just the result of working hard and creating chances this whole game. Sooner or later, it’s going to go in, and that’s why we play for sixty minutes. If it means scoring with 5 seconds to go, or 55 minutes to go – it doesn’t matter,” said Carl Hagelin.
Game six of this back-and-forth nail-biting series is on Wednesday evening at the Verizon Center in Washington DC. On the line is the time of the next Rangers game at Madison Square Garden.