NEW YORK -- Holding a 3-0 lead in the third period, Game 4 was the New York Rangers' for the taking, a win that would have set up a best-of-three showdown to decide the series. Instead, the Rangers -- a team that had not lost a single game after taking any kind of lead into the third period all season long -- watched as the potential victory slowly turned into a crippling defeat at the hands of the Washington Capitals.
The once-staunch Rangers defense yielded two quick goals. The power play continued to falter despite 13:02 with the man advantage. And Marian Gaborik, a player who appeared ready to return to the good graces of Rangers fans with his first goal since March 20, instead had the dubious distinction of figuring into a more important marker -- the OT game-winner for the Capitals.
"It's a tough way to lose a game, obviously, but we have a couple days to regroup," Marc Staal said. "We're not out of it yet. They've come back on us before and we'll have to do the same."
So now the Rangers must rally.
They must gather what strength they have left after Wednesday's multi-OT grind and turn their focus to what could be a decisive Game 5 in Washington. On one hand, their memories must be short. Purge the final 50-plus minutes from Wednesday's debacle and move on. On the other hand, they'd do well to heed the lessons from their recent past.
"We lost to Atlanta 3-0," Brandon Dubinsky said, recalling the lifeless performance the Rangers turned in during their second-to-last game of the regular season. "After that we had to beat New Jersey, came in here and beat them 5-2.
"Even last game [Game 3 versus the Capitals]," he continued, adding to the power-of-positive-thinking list of past comebacks. "The resiliency of this group has been great all year and I know we'll be ready to play."
At the admission of their own coach, the Rangers lack the volume of high-skill players enjoyed by most playoff teams, the kind of players that can make up for a key mistake with a timely goal. Without such stars, the Rangers have had to grind for every point during this long drive to the playoffs. All season long they were handed nothing. Now they'll have to take three straight games from the No. 1 seed in the East -- two of them on the road -- knowing that their best 40 minutes of the series wasn't good enough to get them a win.
"Losing an overtime game in the playoffs hurts all the time, but our team will bounce back," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We can't look at the hill. We have to win the next game. We have to find a way to win one hockey game and we will see what happens from there."
"We knew going into the series that we were going to have to win in their building [to advance]," Dubinsky said. "We just have to bring it for 60 minutes. We have to use this as a lesson that 40 minutes isn't good enough."