By Larry Wigge
It took 4 1/2 hours, gatorade had been chugged by the gallon by all 40 players to keep from passing out. Bananas, scarfed in bunches by both sides, the potassium keeping legs from morphing to dust after night became morning.
The reflexes and players reactions were slowed. There was no such thing as quick-twitch speed. In fact, it seemed as if a lot of players had lost a step or missed a beat in their play.
The New York Rangers and Washington Capitals they played on until ... there was nothing more left to give.
One hundred and 14 minutes plus had expired when Dan Girardi and Brad Richards played the puck behind the net, where Richards, a terrific playmaker, sent a quick pass out to Marian Gaborik and he unleashed a one-timer through the legs of goaltender Braden Holtby.
Suddenly, the night was over.
"I was trying to be patient," Holtby said. "They were trying to play around with different plays behind the net. Richards threw a quick pass out front, right on the other guy's tape. It went through my legs ... before I could get down."
Holtby deserved better. He made 47 saves in the loss.
"It was a game of wills," said Gaborik. "And we wanted this game."
"It became a mental game," said Rangers coach John Tortorella. "It was a matter of just not giving in."
For Gaborik, it was his first goal since the playoff opener -- ending a seven-game goalless slump.
For Holtby, it was a save that he might have made earlier in the game -- like he did when Gaborik had two whacks and Ryan Callahan two more as the first overtime period was coming to a close.
The netminder's reaction time had slowed ... tiredness snuck into Holtby's game.
"Everybody contributed," Gaborik said. "Everybody left everything out there."
Some Rangers fans were hopeful that it might end the way Stephane Matteu's goal beat Martin Brodeur some on May 27, 1994, for a 2-1 Rangers victory over New Jersey in the Eastern Conference finals. But Matteu's goal came in the second overtime period.
There were no excuses by Gaborik for his slump from 41 goals in the regular season. Still, the Rangers were expecting better from Marian when they signed him to a whopping five-year, $37.5 million deal as a free agent in July of 2009 -- thinking New York had just signed the final piece to win the Stanley Cup.
In his first eight seasons after being picked third overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the Minnesota Wild, the Trencin, Slovakia, winger had been wildly successful -- despite missing big portions of several season with hip and abdominal injuries. Still, he score 30 or more goals five times, including a career-high 42 goals in 2007-08.
We first ran into Gaborik as he got off the bus at the 2002 All-Star Game. He was preparing to suit up for the YoungStars.
Several fans of the Wild asked for a photo of him. After the photo was taken, the fan's digital camera immediately displays the finished product, leading Gaborik to ask for a copy of the photo to send to his parents in Slovakia.
"You could see the 'Hollywood' sign on the mountain in the background," Gaborik says. "I have sent them photos of the White House, Liberty Bell, Niagara Falls and Gateway Arch, but I think they will like this one the best. I mean, how many times do you see that sign in a TV show or movie?"
Pavol Gaborik is in the furniture-making business back home in Slovakia. He still makes most the pieces by hand and sells them out of a little shop.
"Marian grew up playing hockey, but he spent just as much time creating art -- oil paintings, sculptures that are on display at home," Pavol said.
So you've got not only a gifted skater, but much, much more in Marian Gaborik.
Former Montreal Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier once described him as, "Gaborik is like a Ferrari -- he's sleek and fast. He goes from a dead start to 60 mph faster than anyone in the game -- and he's got the hands to be one of the game's best playmakers."
While growing up in his native Slovakia, Gaborik idolized international stars Peter Stastny, Peter Bondra and Pavel Bure. But even if a player has the skills of Bure and comes from a foreign land, success isn't a given.
"It's like being in school," says Jaromir Jagr. "You be quiet and listen and learn. You can't be confident in your skills because you are not totally confident in how you act."
Gaborik was aimed in the right direction by the Wild, which tried to help him through the cultural transition. He says, however, a lot of his comfort level came from watching movies.
"Jennifer Lopez's parents learned English in the movie The Wedding Planner by joining a Scrabble club," Gaborik says. "I just watch the movies to learn ... to help me become more comfortable with the language."
Now it's Gaborik who is becoming the celebrity. His maturity is evident in how he approaches the game. He's a thinking-man's player, whose 6-1, 200-pound size doesn't hurt in the physical NHL game.
"Gaborik sees the ice and reacts to a potential play like a veteran," said former coach Pat Quinn says. "He no longer plays like a kid. He makes all the plays that a Mario Lemieux or Jaromir Jagr does."
Marian Gaborik is now 30-years-old. He still has the creative mind of an art major and that of a quality goal scorer.
Now, if that triple overtime thriller can get him going, the New York Rangers will have something.