For the Rangers, the lesson was an old but difficult one: They who hesitate are lost.
With the score tied in the waning seconds of regulation of Game 1 of their second-round playoff series against the Washington Capitals Thursday night, the roof suddenly fell in.
With defenseman Dan Boyle down on the ice along the right boards after Nicklas Backstrom's high shoulder hit from behind that wasn't deemed a penalty, the Rangers seemed to freeze. Alex Ovechkin grabbed the puck, went behind the net and found Joel Ward alone in front, and he put the winner past Henrik Lundqvist with 1.3 seconds left for a stunning 2-1 victory at Madison Square Garden.
"A little shell-shocked right now," Ryan McDonagh said. "I saw Boyler get hit, go down, and I kind of hesitated just to see. I thought [the referees] were going to blow [the whistle]. He's going around the net, makes a good play and they bang it in."
Lundqvist, openly frustrated in the locker room, agreed that the Rangers didn't play to the horn. "The last few seconds, I think we all just kind of stopped because Boyle went down, and we lost our focus a little bit and gave up the last chance,'' he said. "I was kind of going to my right and thought the puck was going to come out on my right, and then when it came out, I was too late to come down. It's a tough one. It's like losing in overtime."
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Saturday afternoon at the Garden.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who was livid on the bench and angry in his postgame news conference, refused to comment on whether Backstrom should have been penalized. "I'm not going to comment on the officiating. Don't ask me," he said. "We lost a battle in the corner. They got to it first. We had nobody in front, protecting the front."
Capitals coach Barry Trotz simply said: "Boyle was trying to kill the clock and we played through and got the puck free and got it to the front with virtually no time left. Big goal."
The game seemed destined for overtime after Kevin Hayes' long shot with 4:39 left in regulation hit the leg of Jesper Fast, battling in front with Jay Beagle, and deflected past Braden Holtby for the 1-1 tie. It was the 22-year-old Swedish winger's first playoff goal.
It was the highlight of a strong period for the Rangers, who finally got some traffic in front of Holtby (31 saves) but couldn't cash in any rebounds.
The Rangers had the better of the play at full strength but were 0-for-3 on the power play.
Ovechkin, who attempted 12 shots -- one on which he scored, five that Lundqvist stopped, three that missed and three that were blocked -- provided the opening goal with a rocket late in the first period. It came on the power play with Dom Moore off for holding.
As Ovechkin came down the left side, Boyle backed up and he launched a 45-foot shot from the top of the circle that went through Boyle and between Lundqvist's stick and the near post at 18:13. It was Ovechkin's third goal of the playoffs and sixth against the Rangers this season. The shots were 12-6 Rangers before the goal.
"I felt really confident taking that game into overtime. It just didn't happen,'' said Martin St. Louis, who skated on the first line in place of winger Mats Zuccarello, out indefinitely with a head injury suffered in Game 5 when he was struck by McDonagh's shot.
"If Boyler doesn't go down, they don't get that chance," St. Louis said. "This time of year, you have to shake it off."