May 2, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; New York Rangers center Brad Richards (19) skates with the puck as Washington Capitals defenseman Roman Hamrlik (44) defends during the third period of game three in the Eastern Conference semifinals of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center. The Rangers won 2-1 in triple overtime. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE
The Rangers may have won Game 3 in triple overtime, but they taxed their defensemen heavily to get the victory. Does that give the Capitals an edge heading into Game 4?
WASHINGTON -- It's not just that the Washington Capitals lost Game 3 in triple overtime that makes Wednesday night's marathon defeat so frustrating for them. It's that they had so many chances to close this one out well before the clock struck midnight and the calendar flipped to Thursday. It's that this was a game they should have won.
Two missed scoring chances in the first overtime period stick out as the memorable moments from the Capitals side of things after Marian Gaborik's shot won it for the Rangers at the 14:41 mark of period six. First, Troy Brouwer did this:
"Frustration for me," Brouwer said after the game, reflecting on the wide-open net that had stared him in the face earlier in the evening. "I was in tight, I was trying to get it up and it just rolled over my stick. I've gotta at least get it on net, give it a chance to go in the net."
Then, not more than five minutes later, Alex Ovechkin did this:
The goal horn sounded, the crowd half-heartedly cheered, but everybody except that horn guy seemed to realize that the puck never crossed the goal line. Did Caps coach Dale Hunter think it was in?
"No, we could see it hit the post," Hunter said. "Both sides had chances and that's what happens when there's two teams battling."
As frustrating as the misses may have been for the Capitals, especially for a guy like Karl Alzner who played 37:14 and was on the ice for Gaborik's winner, only to come home from Game 3 to see his dogs had destroyed his living room, the series isn't over for them. Rangers coach John Tortorella knows that best.
"The impact is we're up a game," Torts said. "They have to win three and we have to win two. Other than that, we'll take tomorrow off from practice and get ready to play. The guys should feel good about themselves. They didn't give in and they found a way, but now we'll just go about our business."
The Rangers did indeed find a way, as they came out blazing in the third overtime period. Both teams got their chances in that period, but it was New York that had the noticeable edge. They outskated Washington and held puck possession for most of the period, even earning a power play for their efforts, and while there's always the fear that an ugly bounce could go the wrong way for a team in overtime, it seemed like the Rangers were the team that would pull this thing out as the third OT progressed. They simply looked more energized than the Caps did. They outlasted the opposition.
But did that come at a price?
"One of these games like this, you need all your players playing," Hunter said. "We played six D and our four lines so it's important for everybody to go. It's one of these series in the playoffs where you have to have all your players playing because you need them all. There could be another overtime game so you need all your players fresh.
"They only played five D and we played six, but they basically played the rest of the players most of the time. The D must get tired. One of their D played much more than ours, so he must be more tired than our D, but that's one of the things you have to do sometimes."
It wasn't just one defenseman who played more, though. Michael Del Zotto played 43:33, Dan Girardi played 44:26, and Marc Staal played 49:24, while Anton Stralman saw just 28 minutes and Stu Bickel saw 3:24. Ryan McDonagh played an incomprehensible 53:17 in Game 3 and stole the spotlight for it, but as overtime progressed it became pretty evident that Tortorella was rolling only four defensemen, with Stralman playing a bit of relief here and there.
Compare that to the Capitals defense. Dennis Wideman played 40:42, Karl Alzner played 37:14, Roman Hamrlik played 38:43, Mike Green played 37:59, Jeff Schultz played 31:52, and John Carlson played 39:19. All six played at least three minutes less than the Rangers top four, and they all played at least 10 minutes less than McDonagh.
Tortorella explained why he went that direction with his personnel management.
"We kept asking [McDonagh], 'Are you okay?'" the coach said. "And he said he was fine. He wanted more."
"You get into a situation where you ice [Bickel] and you just know that this is gonna go on for a while but it's an awful tough situation to put Bick into after he's been sitting for a while. So we made the decision just to stay with the five. Mac gets run over and I think it took him a few shifts to get his bearings but it's a really good experience for our D to get through it and find a way to get a win."
They got through it. Del Zotto seemed relieved at the victory afterwards, the fact that it happened still setting in as he spoke with reporters. He said he had about five bananas to keep himself going during the game, and he didn't look any more tired than after a typical three period game.
But you have to imagine that despite a two-day lay off before Game 4, the extra work put in by the Rangers top four could manifest itself later in the series. None of them have ever played that much hockey in a single game before, and while their opponent isn't exactly well-rested either, the Caps still have this edge heading into Game 4.
This series between the Rangers and Capitals has hinged on defense and goaltending thus far. It's been a close, tight-checking series -- all one goal games decided in the third period or later. Things might look even early on in the first two periods of Game 4, but there's no doubt that McDonagh, Staal, Girardi and Del Zotto will be feeling the burn a bit more than the Caps' six defensemen come the latter stages of the game on Saturday.
In such a closely-contested series, it could be the difference between a 3-1 Rangers series lead and a 2-2 deadlock heading into Game 5.