By Jay Greenberg
Turns out, there was more than just a method to the madness of Dale Hunter holding Alex Ovechkin to 13 minutes of ice time in Game 2. It was an actual prophecy.
"You have to have all your guys playing because of games like this," said the all-knowing coach of the Washington Capitals after his team and the Rangers went 114:41 until Marian Gaborik scored to win Game 3 Wednesday night for New York.
Of course, not to be outdone, the all-seeing winning coach, John Tortorella, said he could sense the kill for a few shifts before Gaborik scored.
The biggest shame, then, is not that somebody had to lose this classic, but that both teams were too exhausted to follow their coaches to Atlantic City on Thursday, an extra off day that television executives dressed in babushkas and wielding Tarot cards built into this series.
"There could be another game like this," next predicted Hunter.
Ovechkin hit a post and flubbed another great chance during the overtimes. Troy Brouwer, set up by one of the unsung Caps heroes, Matt Hendricks, had Henrik Lundqvist dead and shot wide.
Jason Chimera and Keith Aucoin both put redirects off posts. And in the best chance of all, Brooks Laich walked with 10 feet of Lundqvist on a three-on-two in the second period and did nothing with it until too late, enabling the Rangers goalie to make a save along the ice with his blocker.
'Just 1 game'
But never mind how many times the Caps had Game 3 in the palms of their hands, their coach's palms must clearly tell him this is not over. So do the four overtime games his team played in the first round, two of which Washington won after extra-time defeats in the previous contest.
"It's a special game but just one game," Hunter said. He must then have it on good authority that the Caps will show up Saturday in full expectation of getting the next break, knowing that it is their turn.
"We weren't able to get the goal but no reason to hang your head or pout," said Laich. "We were right there."
Granted, so were the Bruins the last round until they suddenly were told by Joel Ward's goal in Game 7 overtime to go home. But even if that second and third OT became a walking death for the participants in Wednesday night's classic, the Caps hardly needed to be reminded they are very much alive. Hunter even expressed some modest hope that the Rangers victory may prove pyrrhic.
"They only played five D and we played six," said Hunter. "Their D must be getting more tired than our D, but they are mobile.
"So we just have to keep grinding and see."
The Caps didn't have a defenceman play over 40 minutes. Ryan McDonagh played 51. The Rangers fourth-line players only averaged about three minutes less than the Washington fourth liners, so any attrition advantages likely would be confined to the defences and Tortorella doesn't believe in that anyway.
"It's playoff hockey," he said on a conference call Thursday as both teams were given the day off. "I don't expect it to be a problem."
One would expect that the Rangers coach, who said after the game that he had frozen Stu Bickel for so long he didn't dare try to thaw him out in the second overtime, will use his sixth defenceman deeper into Game 4. McDonagh is 22 years old, Michael Del Zotto 21, Dan Girardi 28 and Marc Staal 25, so their bodies should recover as fast as the Capitals' spirits.
As late as Game 3 ended - 12:14 a.m. ET - it's still plenty early in the series. And even if it wasn't, the 1994 New Jersey Devils (four overtimes) and 1971 Chicago Blackhawks (three overtimes) lost Game 6s - against Buffalo and the Rangers respectively - and still moved on to the next round.
"We're down 2-1, we have to win," said Hunter, but he insisted he slept well knowing that that in time there will be no losers among the participants in Game 3.
"When you get to be my age, win or lose, you remember the battle from games like that," he said. "The ones I played in, I have all good memories."
"He also knows he has a team with short ones, even more useful than an ice bath, electrolyte beverages, pasta, hyperbaric chambers or a good, old, all-day sleep to get the Caps ready for Game 4.
Follow Jay Greenberg on Twitter @scribejg
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