In a grueling battle of will that endured for three overtime periods and 114:41 minutes, there was one thing that bolstered Ryan McDonagh's resolve.
"Knowing the guy next to me is doing the same way," McDonagh after logging a staggering 53:17 in ice time during the Rangers' stunning 2-1 victory at Washington. "Everybody put forth such a great effort. It was an unbelievable feeling to win."
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 45 saves and Marian Gaborik snapped an eight-game goal drought to score the game-winner in sudden death, but McDonagh slogged away in the trenches to help boost his team in the season-defining win.
The 22-year-old defenseman led all players on the ice in minutes played and sacrificed his body at every turn, finishing the marathon with eight blocked shots and four hits over 60 shifts.
His iron-man effort was the most ice time a player has logged in almost four years. According to hockey-reference.com, defensemen Brian Campbell (56:23) and Sergei Zubov (53:50) logged more in an epic quadruple-overtime match between the Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks on May 4, 2008.
"I had no clue," McDonagh said. "You just try to get out there, keep it simple and play hard. When you come to the bench, get your breath as fast as you can. Everybody put forth a hell of an effort."
McDonagh's gritty performance was a highlight of what has been a sensational season for the second-year player. The former first-round pick, acquired via trade in what may now be regarded as Glen Sather's finest move as Rangers general manager, recorded seven goals, 25 assists and finished with a plus-25 rating in 82 regular-season games this season.
Part of the team's sturdy shutdown pair with partner Dan Girardi, McDonagh leads the Blueshirts with an average of 28:49 in ice time this postseason and has proven himself more than capable when matched up against the top players in the league.
"He has a mental toughness about him that has impressed us right away, when he first came to us," coach John Tortorella said.
Tortorella said he asked McDonagh repeatedly throughout the game how he was feeling and McDonagh seemed to relish the opportunity.
"He said he was fine. He wanted more," Tortorella said. "It's a really good experience for our young [defenseman] to get through it and find a way to win."
McDonagh's calm demeanor after the game was about as steady as his performance on the ice. When asked to describe the exhaustion, he said:
"It's not exhaustion when you win the game. It feels like all the effort paid off. That's the only way to put it."