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The King had already started looking ahead. Of course he had. Hadn’t you? Hadn’t everyone? Henrik Lundqvist was on the bench, the seconds were spinning off the clock at Madison Square Garden, the puck was twisting on the ice, there were 20 seconds left, then 15, then 10.
“In your mind,” Lundqvist said, “you start thinking, ‘OK, we’ve been here before, we’ve been down 3-2, we know what we need to do.’”
In your mind too, right? And in your living room, where you’d paced the rug bare, or in the saloon where you were ready to order one for the road, one to make you forget. Or in your seat at the Garden, watching the seconds spinning off, melting away, trying to muster a sound, any sound, something that would make the nausea go away …
Rangers’ Brad Richards prepares to shoot the puck for what proved to be the game-tying goal with 6.6 seconds left in regulation last night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Marc Staal scored 1:35 into overtime and the Rangers had taken a 3-2 series lead on the Capitals." title="NOT BRAD: The Rangers’ Brad Richards prepares to shoot the puck for what proved to be the game-tying goal with 6.6 seconds left in regulation last night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Marc Staal scored 1:35 into overtime and the Rangers had taken a 3-2 series lead on the Capitals." width="300" height="300" src="/rw/nypost/2012/05/08/sports/web_photos/08.2s064.vaccaro.c--300x300.jpg" />
Paul J. Bereswill
NOT BRAD: The Rangers’ Brad Richards prepares to shoot the puck for what proved to be the game-tying goal with 6.6 seconds left in regulation last night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Marc Staal scored 1:35 into overtime and the Rangers had taken a 3-2 series lead on the Capitals.
… and then …
… and then …
… and then …
“And then,” Lundqvist said, “you’re thinking of something very different.”
It took a full heartbeat for the Garden to register with its voice what it had already seen with its eyes. Had the puck really squirted over the line? That wasn’t an optical illusion? Ryan Callahan had really started that one final push, and Brad Richards had ended it, and that was really the red light spinning behind the Washington goal?
It was really a 2-2 hockey game?
There were [ital] really [ital] only 6.6 seconds left, 6.6 seconds that had separated the Rangers from having to make another trip to another national capital trying to liberate their season from another band of low-seeded pirates?
“You’re on the brink of feeling the worst you could possibly feel,” center Brian Boyle said. “And then you’re just flying as high as you possibly can.”
They wouldn’t torture you this time, either. Less than a minute and a half into overtime, still enjoying a power play, Marc Staal beat Braden Holtby, the scoreboard clicked to 3-2, and the stands went nuclear. The Rangers exploded off the bench and you did the same, didn’t you? This was one of those games you feel a part of, right down to the sweat pouring down your face at the end, right to the point where you collapsed into your La-Z-Boy, needing a breather.
“It’s awesome,” Callahan, the captain, said of the joyous thunderstorm that crackled once, 6.6 seconds before the end of regulation, and again, less than a minute and a half into OT. “Twenty seconds left, they’re standing up and chanting ‘Let’s go, Rangers!’ and that fuels you. That makes you feel good. To be able to get that one and hear the Garden explode … I haven’t heard it that loud since I’ve been here.”
He’d better get used to it, because you want to know what this was, when you get right down to it? It was precisely the kind of game champions win, the kind they look back on in July, in October, in 10 years, in 30. It’s precisely the kind of game that fans talk about forever, that they relive, that kids re-enact on the street.
Six-point-six? Are you kidding?
“You feel like you have a chance coming down the stretch,” Richards said, “and someone has to bury it.”
Richards buried it. And then Staal buried another. All night long the Rangers occupied the Caps’ end of the ice, kept rushing at Holtby, kept peppering him with shots and chances and pressure. And for 59 minutes and 53.4 seconds, it seemed like the most fruitless task in the world. The Caps were going to survive. The Rangers were going to have to do in Washington what they’d already done in Ottawa.
They were flirting with fire.
And instead wound up dancing on stars.
“In overtime, you know it’s gonna end quick and one team’s gonna get kicked in the gut,” said John Tortorella, the Rangers coach who’d seen his team get kicked in the gut seven straight times until surviving Game 3’s marathon, whose quiet confidence in all of the season’s gravest moments so far ennobles his team with the belief it can make moments like this happen simply by wanting them to happen, by willing them to happen.
“We found a way,” Tortorella said, and you have to believe this won’t be the last time you’ll hear the coach singing those lyrics before the this spring is done.
Henrik Lundqvist, Lundqvist, Brad Richards, Marc Staal, Madison Square Garden, Rangers, Rangers, Mike VaccaroFollow Mike, Braden Holtby