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Staal and the Rangers will play host to the Caps again in Wednesday's Game 4.NEW YORK -- They just never stopped.
Facing a two-game deficit against the Washington Capitals, the Rangers could have rolled over before the game even started and still been content with a solid season from a young, building team. They clearly didn't.
With goals at such a premium this series, they could have been tempted to yield again when the Caps knotted the score at 1 just before the end of the second period. But they battled on with identical intensity.
They could have slumped over after the officials wiped out an apparent goal with 0.1 seconds remaining in the middle period. They didn't cash out then, either, nor did they throw up their hands when the Caps tied the game at 2 late in the third. Instead, they just kept looking for a way to win.
They finally found it in the form of a fortunate bounce in the Caps' crease -- and now any notion of surrender should be banished forever.
"It's a series now," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said, repeating the phrase three times in roughly 200 words worth of postgame comments.
"All season long we've prided ourselves on staying with the game plan and never giving up, so it was a good test for us there."
The biggest test of the team's resolve came at the end of the second period when the apparent go-ahead goal was taken off the board. While an NBC replay from a side-angle camera seemed to show the puck crossing the line with 0.1 second on the game clock, the official game feed in the NHL's Toronto operations center, which has the time synched and burned into the video feed, showed all zeroes.
"It was a little bit frustrating, obviously," Staal said of the erased marker. "That would have been a big goal for us, but we were still in good shape."
"We were fine," Rangers head coach John Tortorella said. "Once they said it wasn't a goal, we just went about our business."
To that end, Staal's defensive partner Dan Girardi recounted the scene in the Rangers' room at the second intermission.
"We came to the locker room and said, 'You know what, we'll just have to do it the hard way,'" Girardi said. "We did a good job just being resilient, even when they got that tying goal [in the third]. It's a huge win for us."
At the start of the game, it looked like another blanketing defensive effort from Washington would again stymie the Blueshirts' scoring. But their persistence paid off as the kept attacking through the neutral zone, taking the body and driving the net in an all-out effort that put a little starch in their blue collars the Rangers so often wear.
"I think they did a nice job around the net," the Caps' Mike Knuble said. "The third goal was played around the net. The second goal was a deflection. They just seemed to be around the net a little more. I think that was the obvious game plan for them."
Not that he needed to, but third-line center Brian Boyle confirmed as much in the locker room. "We just have to keep coming hard," Boyle said. "They know we're coming and they're going to be playing hard too. We just have to be relentless. Work hard, get the puck and get scoring chances."
Coming into Sunday's game, Tortorella emphasized that his team's greatest challenge would be a mental one, convincing themselves that they were still right in the series despite the two-game hole. Consider that challenge met.
"Not any more," Tortorella said, when asked if he finds the ability of his team to persevere surprising or not. "We've gone through a lot of injuries, up and downs, but we just end up finding ourselves."
And now the Rangers find themselves right back in the series two games to one.