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Rangers Vs. Capitals: Keep Breathing, Boys

Notes from the Rangers Game 5 win over the Washington Capitals.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

- As the Rangers' season ticked down from 9:00 left to 6:24 left to 4:45 left to 1:54 left I had very few emotions running through my system. My thoughts were silent, eyes glassy, mouth pursed and my head was in my hands. I felt nothing. Acceptance, maybe, although acceptance is an illusion until it's a necessity -- so in truth I was lying to myself for seven minutes. Then Chris Kreider scores and the blood rushes through my veins again. I'm yelling. My ears are ringing. And the silence in my head is replaced with one though, running over and over again: Now. Win. This. F-ing. Game.

- But the funny thing about playoff hockey is death is always a bounce away. And in an elimination game that edge is even sharper, because for the Rangers the prize might have been another game to survive but the punishment was death. And when the lines are painted so clearly on the ground, and the options are so black and white, simplicity takes over as both sides look for a goal only one team will be allowed to find. And my God is it exciting, in the moment, to dance with death. And horrifying. And heart stopping. And exhilarating. It's the difference between the corridors outside Madison Square Garden exploding as you leave the game or walking through the halls in eerie silence, your footsteps and a thousand others making the only noise as they echo off the high walls.

- Why all the poetry? Because I truly believe winning a game like THAT is the best thing that could have happened, no matter how much it sucked to get to the screaming, "Let's Go Rangers!" chanting corridors outside of Madison Square Garden. To tie the game with so little time left and then to win in overtime? Washington needs to think about that the rest of tonight. And the Rangers finally have a bounce that went their way as they prepare for Sunday.

- And you know what? I love this hockey team. I love how crazy Kreider is and the faces he makes after he scores a goal. I love Mats Zuccarello dressing like a dolphin and a ninja turtle on Halloween. I love Kevin Hayes' stupid Boston accent. I love "Yeah, Carlos!" I love how much they love each other. We might not be in the locker room but this team is so much fun and tight knit that you really do feel like you're a part of it even as a fan. And like it or not when they die we die with them. No season and no team is ever the same. Although the core of this group? They are. And I feel like we've grown up together. And I'm not ready for that to end.

- Winning this game does a lot of things, and it does change the complexion of the series. Washington is going home with a chance to end the series in their building, but they must do it knowing that if they don't, a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden looms. The pressure, despite the Rangers being down 3-2 in the series, begins to shift.

- But the Rangers need to adjust that pressure in Game 6. Game 5 followed the blueprint of the other three losses. Crazy early domination (Rangers were up 11-2 in shot midway through the first) with nothing to show for it before the Capitals marched their way back into the game. The whole no bounce thing reared its ugly head, the Rangers made a mistake, the Capitals capitalized on it and suddenly the season was on life support. An early goal (or, imagine, two or three) would help Washington grip their sticks a little tighter Sunday. 

- But give Washington a lot of credit. They are playing very good defensive hockey, capitalizing when they can and Braden Holtby has been exceptional. If you think winning two in a row is going to be easy I have a bridge to sell you.

- Had the Rangers lost this game I would have talked about how deflating it is when your best players make mistakes. Until Kreider's goal Ryan McDonagh had a night to forget.

- Now that the Rangers have won I have to talk about how uplifting it is when your best players come through. McDonagh had an assist on the tying goal and scored the game winning goal in overtime. He leaves a hero, although he was under two minutes from being a scapegoat. The edge is that sharp. 

- Rick Nash? Dominant. Seriously, the puck has to go in for him eventually. Not sure what else he can do at this point.

- Do I even need to talk about Henrik Lundqvist? Holtby's show coupled with the Rangers' lack of offense has really pulled the spotlight away from Lundqvist but my word has he been good. Spectacular. Elite. Pick a favorable adjective, it doesn't matter which one.

- Not the best night from Martin St. Louis, but it wasn't his worst either.

- Loved Carl Hagelin all night. So underrated. And Derek Stepan had the primary assists on both goals, so, yeah, he's had an impact too. 

- I'm writing this from the train on my way home. You won't read it until it's scheduled to post tomorrow morning but know this: After the McDonagh goal went in I had one thought run through my head over and over again.

Now go win a road game. Bring this back home.

10 to go.