By Steve Silverman
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The pursuit of greatness can be its own reward. The ability to keep trying when all is lost and there are only seconds remaining may be the biggest test of all.
That’s basically all the Rangers had going for them as the seconds ticked down in the third period of Game 5 against the Washington Capitals. Despite outplaying the visitors for the majority of the game, the Rangers had pulled Henrik Lundqvist and were desperate to gain control of the puck so they could mount a final assault on Washington goalie Braden Holtby. They got a bit of an edge when Washington’s Joel Ward was called for a double-minor high sticking penalty, but there were only 22 seconds left on the clock.
The 6-on-4 advantage provided a bit of hope, but there was hardly any time left on the clock. The Rangers provided the battle level to keep the puck in the Washington zone, but they needed a lot more than passion to get the puck by Holtby for the tying goal. They needed skill, and they got it as the clock went under the 10 second mark. Michael Del Zotto sent the puck careening towards the net from the left point and Ryan Callahan was there to bang away at the rebound. That activity kept Holtby and the Washington defense from controlling the puck, but it wasn’t enough to put it in the net. However, when Brad Richards swooped in and had just enough room to put some real zip on the puck, the real magic happened. He elevated the puck and fired it off the far post and into the net with 6.6 seconds left in the game.
The Rangers would not have been left for dead if Richards did not put the puck in the net for the tying goal, but talk about the funeral would have begun. The life support mechanism would have been fully activated. They would have been going to the nation’s capital with no margin for error and the play of the plucky Capitals would have been the topic of the day. The Rangers and their great regular season would have been ready to fade away.
But Richards showed his leadership along with his talent when he made his magical move to the net and twisted his wrists. He breathed new life into the team and its relieved fans.
Seconds later, the horn sounded and both teams were left to regroup for overtime. The Rangers started the extra session with a power play, thanks to Ward’s reckless high stick that had drawn blood from Carl Hagelin’s mouth. The Rangers knew that they had to finish the job or the miracle of tying the game in the final seconds would be rendered meaningless if they didn’t score in the extra session. Letting the power play waste away would be tantamount to giving momentum back to the Caps.
Marc Staal was not about to let that happen. Staal was set up at the right point when the puck skittered back to him. Instead of winding and firing, Staal skated to his left until he was almost in the middle of the offensive zone. He sensed his moment and he wound up and let go of his rocket. The shot deflected off the skate of Washington penalty killer Brooks Laich. Instead of angling off course, it went right by Holtby for the game winner at the 1:35 mark of overtime. Triple overtime was not needed this time.
Relief and joy were intertwined at that moment. The benefit is a 3 games to 2 lead heading into the sixth game on Washington’s home ice.
The Rangers will have the momentum when they step on the ice Wednesday night. That will last until the puck is dropped. A new script will play itself out as that game unfolds.
It will take more desperation, skill and a large amount of puck luck to close out the Capitals in that game and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals. They will have two chances, but they want to finish it in the first one.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy).