It was shaping up to be another night in the deja vu-filled life that is the Rangers' existence these days, but it wound up turning into a 3-2 overtime win and another chapter in the book of excitement that has also been the Rangers' existence these days.
Marc Staal scored the winning goal 1:35 into the extra period after Brad Richards tied it with just 6.6 seconds to play in regulation.
The Rangers had played hard, but so had the Capitals, and a couple of bad bounces led to a 2-1 Washington lead as the minutes flitted away in the third period. The Rangers had been more aggressive with 17 first-period shots, but their scoring touch remained as illusory as a competent power play.
It looked like the Rangers were doomed to lose Game Five at home for the second straight series and face a pair of do-or-die games to decide their playoff fate. They were seconds away from just such a fate when the script suddenly changed.
Capitals forward Joel Ward was whistled for a double minor for high-sticking Carl Hagelin with 21 seconds left, leaving the Rangers with a 6-on-4 advantage for one last scramble. Ryan Callahan banged the puck into Braden Holtby twice before Richards swooped in for a goal that tied the game with 6.6 seconds to play.
Richards has scored so many big goals for the Rangers this season, but this was undoubtedly the biggest. He rescued a team that had been lost for the first 59-plus minutes of overtime and put them on the doorstep of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Garden went wild and the Rangers would start overtime on a power play as a result of the call on Ward. They would end it the same way.
John Mitchell won a faceoff, the puck kicked back to Staal and it was over a heartbeat later when Staal beat Holtby for the game-winner. It was a second power-play goal for the Rangers in 1:41 and a major shift for a unit that has been such an Achilles heel all season.
It was a big one again tonight, but timing is everything. The two goals came exactly when the Rangers needed them and now it's the Capitals who will have to play with an extra level of desperation on Wednesday night.
The Rangers will have to weather that desperation, but they'll do it knowing that they have the upper hand. That's a nice change of pace from the familiar story of these playoffs, almost as nice as the rapid change in fortunes that occured on the Garden ice on Monday night.