Sitting at Martin St. Louis' stall, Chris Kreider was the epitome of exhaustion.
Physically. Mentally. Emotionally.
"It's the kind of game that sheds a few years off your life," Kreider said after the Rangers extended their season by one more game with a pulsating 2-1 overtime win over the Washington Capitals in Game 5 of the Metropolitan Division Finals Friday night at the Garden.
The Rangers trail the best-of-seven three games to two. Game 6 is Sunday night at the Verizon Center, where the Rangers had dropped Games 3-4 of the series.
But to hear Derek Stepan, the Rangers will go into that win-or-go-home-for-the-summer match with positive feelings derived from all that they accomplished in Game 5.
As Alain Vigneault vowed during his morning media briefing, the Rangers spent much of the match in the offensive zone, as they finished with a 43-29 advantage in shots and out-attempted the Capitals 66-56.
"It's a good confidence boost for us," Stepan said. "I think we're focused on one-at-a-time. I think that really helped ustonight, just focused on winning Game 5. We move on to Game 6. That sucks for reporters to hear that but that's the best way to say it; that's what our focus is."
Still, the Rangers found themselves trailing 1-0 after Curtis Glencross swatted a rebound Henrik Lundqvist couldn't control into the Seventh Avenue net with 9:06 left in regulation.
Time was not the ally for the best regular season team in franchise history had done. Despite dictating how the game would be played, time ticked off the clock, a cruel reminder that professional sports is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? industry. Fifty-three wins and 113 points would be a footnote, an addendum to an obituary all too familiar with those who have studied the franchise's history:
Good, but not good enough.
But in a flash, despair transformed into joyous pandemonium as Kreider, one-timed a Stepan feed past Braden Holtby with 1:41 left in their season to tie the game at 1-1. Kreider punched the air and unleashed a primal scream as bedlam engulfed the Garden.
"I wanted to get it off as quick as possible," Kreider said. "Just a great play by [Stepan]. There was open space and there's not a lot of open space against that team, so whoever drove the net--I don't know if we had a defenseman jump in [or] Jasper [Fast] went hard to the net--that's huge. That play doesn't happen if they don't do that."
When the overhead scoreboard clock read four zeroes across, a nervous energy filled the old house on 33rd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. For it would take one mere flick of the wrist to determine whether the 2014-15 Rangers would continue their season or if they would begin the painful process of saying goodbye.
Nine minutes and thirty-seven seconds into overtime, Ryan McDonagh stepped to the forefront. A play that began with Fast intercepting a Glencross pass in the neutral zone ended with McDonagh one-timing a Stepan feed past Holtby and into the Eighth Avenue net.
The Bridge shook as 18,006 spectators, 20 athletes and a coaching staff celebrated the 2-1 win.
"We're jus trying to continue to play the right way," Vigneault said. "We've been playing some solid hockey at both ends of the rink against a very good team. Our starts have been good and we've been getting some good looks, [but] not getting rewarded for a lot of our good plays.
"But at the end of the day, we're still breathing. We're going to go into Washington on Sunday and give it our best shot. Our group is mentally strong. We've been in a lot of these tight, one-goal games for quite some time. We understand the process that needs to be put on the ice and that's what we're trying to do."