Midnight had come and gone. The Rangers and Capitals, deadlocked at a goal a piece for over 54 minutes of game time, were frantically searching for someone, anyone, to write their own Cinderella story as the late hours of Wednesday night spilled over into the wee hours of Thursday morning.
Washington goaltender Braden Holtby had done everything outside of score the winner himself, turning aside 47 Rangers shots through five and a half periods of hockey. New York's pair of heralded rookies, Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin, had generated chance after chance, looking to add another chapter to their storybook seasons.
But in the end, it was a slumping superstar that became the hero, instead of being labeled the goat.
Marian Gaborik's shot off a Brad Richards feed beat Holtby through the five-hole at 14:41 of the third overtime and the Blueshirts raucously celebrated a marathon victory at the Verizon Center just minutes into Thursday morning:
For Gaborik, the marker couldn't have come at a more opportune time. After beating Holtby but hitting iron earlier in the third overtime, that $7.5 million salary loomed larger and larger as play continued. You see, New York's highest paid player (and 41-goal scorer in 2011-12) had hit a dry spell of epic proportions in these playoffs. He was scoreless in eight games, as the collective angst of New York sports fans started to reach A-Rodian levels.
But Gaborik has been no ugly stepsister this postseason, despite his goal-scoring drought. The Slovakian sniper now has seven points in 10 playoff games in 2012. While the Rangers well-documented scoring woes will always get blamed on him first, that's really not all that bad.
The argument, of course, is that he's being paid to score the goals. But if he's still creating them, who gives a damn? As a fan base that adores Ryan Callahan, the king of the ugly goal, and his "put it in off my teeth if you have to" attitude, it's amusing to watch Rangers fans sit back and gnaw at one of their own sometimes.
Let's play the hypothetical game. Had Gaborik not buried Richards' pass and the Capitals later found a way past Henrik Lundqvist last night, the firestorm that the media and fans would've conjured up may have been enough to start derailing this Rangers team. Mounting pressure, along with John Tortorella's quick trigger with line combinations may very well have landed Gaborik next to John Mitchell and Brandon Prust to start game 4, for all we know.
For his sake, and for theirs, Gaborik notched a goal many Blueshirts fans will never forget. And that, in itself, is close enough to a Cinderella story for any of them.