NEW YORK — When playoff hockey games head into overtime, it typically takes a mistake to score a goal.
Marian Gaborik, in an earnest attempt to make a smart defensive play, made perhaps the biggest mistake of his career Wednesday night in the second overtime of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Rangers and Capitals.
After Jason Chimera chipped the puck slowly towards the net, Henrik Lundqvist came just out of his crease to cover the puck. But Gaborik, not realizing his goaltender was about to force a faceoff, tried sweeping it into the corner. Instead, the puck popped into the air, off Chimera’s chest, and down onto the ice just inches from the goal line.
With no one between him and the back of the net, Chimera ended the ninth-longest Rangers game in franchise history at 92 minutes, 32 seconds, and sent New York to within one loss of elimination.
“Hank’s ready to tie it up. Just a fluky goal,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “It’s just a nothing play that turns into something. Obviously something big.”
“It’s just unfortunate to have that in overtime,” said Lundqvist, who made a playoff career-high 49 saves. “A lot of times that’s what happens – a quick play. Before you realize it, it’s over.”
The Rangers led 3-0 in the second intermission, thanks to three second period goals and a Washington team that appeared not to show up for the middle period of regulation. But two third period Capitals goals in 57 seconds gave the visitors life with 16:16 left, and Marcus Johansson scored his second goal of the game with 7:53 remaining in the third period, sending the game to overtime.
It was a stunning collapse by a Rangers team that had been 29-0-0 when leading after two periods this season.
“We’ve been good all year long in third periods,” said defenseman Marc Staal, who logged 36:55 of ice time in this marathon. “A few mistakes in the back of our net, they got back in the game.”
“They just came hard at us,” said Brandon Dubinsky after scoring a goal and an assist in a seven-second span of the second period. “I don’t know if we weren’t ready, or what happened. We just got on our heels, and they played a good third period and found a way to tie it.”
With about six minutes remaining in the second period, and the Rangers holding a 3-0 lead, Rangers fans were celebrating. The team was leading 3-0, and had just scored two goals in seven seconds. It appeared the series was about to become deadlocked at two games apiece.
Instead, its 3-1 for Washington, and the Capitals have a chance to close the series out at home on Saturday afternoon.
“We can’t hang our heads now. We’ve still got an opportunity,” Dubinsky said. “This is something they did to us [in 2009, when the Capitals rallied from 3-1 down to win their conference quarterfinal series in seven games]. We just got to make sure we’re prepared for Game 5 in their building, and get it done there.
“We’re not looking for three in a row, we’re looking for one,” said Brian Boyle, who delivered a team-high ten hits while playing nearly 30 minutes. ‘We’re just trying to win Game 5.”
“That one hurts, no question about it,” said Dubinsky. “We can’t build a time machine and go back. We have to try to find a way to get a big win in their building, and get the series back on our side. Obviously we have to win [two] games in their building to win the series.”
Dan Girardi led all players with a career-high 39:45 of ice time. He also blocked a game-high nine shots.
Late in the second period, Rangers fans started chanting, “Can you hear us?” towards Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, in response to comments Boudreau made Monday that MSG “wasn’t that loud” during Game 3.
The Rangers were 0-7 on the power play, and stand 1-18 on the man advantage in the series.