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Hartnett: Rangers' Road Paved Through Blood And Bruises

'Rangers Inside And Out'
By Sean Hartnett
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The road to the Stanley Cup Finals is paved through blood, sweat, stitches and painful bruises.

With their Game 3 triple-overtime victory complete, the Rangers took another step closer toward that goal but made a giant leap in understanding the price that must be paid to lift hockey's holy grail.

Marian Gaborik's game-winner was the reward for 115 minutes of hard labor performed admirably by the Broadway Blueshirts.

Rangers' Marian Gaborik 3OT game winner by Mike Sham on YouTube

By the time Gaborik scored the game-winner at 12:14 EST, ten Rangers skaters logged over 30 minutes in total ice time. Had Carl Hagelin spent eleven more seconds on the ice, that total would've increased to eleven.

The physical price paid by the Rangers to win Game 3 was there for all to see. Dan Girardi and Brian Boyle's jerseys were covered in blood stains. Boyle required seven stitches along his chin after using it to block an Alexander Semin slap-shot, while Girardi needed roughly ten stitches to his face and chin.

Between the two teams, there was 81 blocked shots. Both the Capitals and Rangers were prepared to do whatever measures necessary to grab a 2-1 foothold on the series. Ryan McDonagh led the Rangers with a whopping 53:17 in total ice time and blocked eight shots. Girardi blocked six shots and Ryan Callahan blocked at least five shots by my unofficial count.

John Tortorella praised McDonagh's willingness to take shift after shift. By game's end, McDonagh took a total of 60 shifts.

"Mac is a guy who has a mental toughness about him that impressed us right away," Tortorella said during his post-game press conference. "We kept asking him, 'Are you O.K.?' He said he was fine and wanted more."

McDonagh soldiered on after taking an enormous hit from Matt Hendricks in overtime.

Matt Hendricks trucks Ryan McDonagh. NY Rangers vs Washington Capitals Game 3 5/2/12 NHL Hockey by Fred Murtz on YouTube

Between overtime periods, energy gel, Gatorade, bananas, IV fluid, bags of ice and smelling salts were all used to keep the Rangers' batteries running. Marc Staal spent 49:34 minutes chugging through the pain barrier and trying to avoid the inevitable muscle cramps that would set in.

"I think I had like five bananas, so that was a start," Staal told reporters post-game. "A lot of Gatorade, a bunch of smelling salts and things like that so you're muscles don't cramp up."

"Physically it's tough obviously, you just run out of gas a lot quicker. It's like 10 or 15 seconds and your legs just leave you again," Staal explained.

Henrik Lundqvist matched Washington's Braden Holtby shot for shot and pulled off a number of saves on Capitals' snipers that appeared near-impossible. At times, I swore that Lundqvist had an extra appendage or two as he went on to stop 45 attempts on goal.

"You have to keep reminding yourself to not have a letdown or make bad decisions out there," Lundqvist said. "After the fourth period, it's all in your head. How far can you push yourself?

Tortorella spoke about his all-world net-minder, "He leads us. The way he portrays himself, the way he plays, his competitiveness... just the way he carries himself is what we are as a team."

The grueling 115-minute epic will serve the Rangers well. There will be further challenges to come throughout this hard-fought series and over the course of the Rangers' playoff run.

When they're looking for a extra gear or faced with a moment when they need to dig deep, they'll remember what it took to win Game 3.

Keep in mind, this team's average age is 26. Outside of Brad Richards, Ruslan Fedotenko, Mike Rupp and backup goaltender Martin Biron, none of the Rangers previously experienced an NHL playoff game of this magnitude.

"The guys should feel good about themselves as far as what they went through. They didn't give in and found a way," Tortorella said.

This group has finally gotten a taste of what a truly heroic playoff victory feels like. Once you get a taste of something, that fuels your hunger to go out and do it again. Success breeds success...

How important was Game 3's triple-overtime victory in shaping the Rangers' playoff identity? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.


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