Ryan Miller, drenched with sweat while he sat on a folding chair in the spartan visitor quarters of Madison Square Garden, stared blankly ahead.
The Buffalo Sabres goalie was drained. He just had played nearly 97 minutes of intense playoff hockey, making 44 saves against the New York Rangers. Had he made one more save it would have matched a career-high.
But the last shot he never saw. Michal Rozsival blasted a perfect one-timer from the top of the right circle that whooshed inside the far post with 3:17 left in the second overtime to give the Rangers a 2-1 triumph in Game Three of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The desperate Rangers now trail the Sabres by a game in their best-of-seven series. Game Four will take place here Tuesday night.
"You have to expect that in their building, back up against the wall, a must-win for them," Miller said. "They ended up getting the right side of the post. Both teams hit some posts in overtime.
"We got our opportunities, didn't capitalize. A hard-fought game, but we expected that from the series. We just have to take the positive that we were able to battle essentially for 97 minutes or so and come back again on Tuesday."
The NHL's best road team struggled to generate offense for the second straight game, but Miller kept the game close so that co-captain Daniel Briere could force not-so-sudden death on a power-play goal with 7:46 left in the third period.
Rangers winger Jaromir Jagr had a remarkable game, scoring a power-play goal 33 seconds into the second period. Henrik Lundqvist again was sensational with 38 saves, the most of his playoff career. In front of their gold-medal goalie, the Rangers out-hit the Sabres, 48-27, and blocked 34 shots.
"I think we dominated the game," Lundqvist said. "We deserved to win."
But the Sabres will look back on Game Three as one of wasted chances. Their breaks were plentiful, their penchant for exploitation poor.
Briere's goal was their only successful power play on nine chances, including one in each overtime period.
"We're still up one [game], but the frustrating part is you spend so much energy and you're so close," Briere said. "At that point, it's not who's better. It's about a lucky bounce.
"We had our chances to put it away. We didn't. The disappointment comes from the long, hard effort and you don't get rewarded."
Jagr finally broke through with his first goal of the series. Jagr fired a shot from the top of the left circle that Miller stopped. Miller seemed to control Martin Straka's rebound shot, but the puck seeped through his pads and into the crease behind him. Jagr circled around and, just before Henrik Tallinder could clear the rebound, buried it.
The Sabres failed to capitalize on a slew of favorable second-period calls.
One break they were most thankful for came at 3:36, when the Rangers thought defenseman Karel Rachunek had scored. Martin Straka passed the puck through Sabres defenseman Jaroslav Spacek's legs, and it ricocheted off Rachunek's right skate before he crashed into Miller. But referee Paul Devorski waved off the would-be goal after a long video review, much to the Rangers' bemusement.
"It was not a kicking motion as far as I was concerned," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "It has to be a distinct kicking motion, and if that's distinct then we're all in trouble."
New York was called for three penalties in a 5:18 span in the second period, but Buffalo couldn't cash any of their power plays. The Garden gathering of 18,200 responded after the second and third penalty kills with standing ovations, and their boys took a one-goal lead into the third period for the second straight game.
"We had a lot of chances, a lot of PPs," Sabres co-captain Chris Drury said. "It's hard right now to pinpoint what it is, but even when we did get chances [Lundqvist] was there to slam the door. They did a better job of blocking shots. They were in the shot lane pretty good. Even ones that got right to the crease, it seemed like they had someone there."
Briere's tying goal wouldn't have been possible if not a fortuitous bounce that prevented New York from taking a 2-0 lead with 10:17 left in regulation.
Rugged winger Sean Avery tried to jam a shot inside the right post. The puck rattled through Miller's armpit and fell on the goal line, but not over, with Teppo Numminen getting a piece before it dribbled into the net.
Briere scored on Buffalo's seventh power play. New York winger Brendan Shanahan, exasperated in the penalty box for a questionable cross-check of Ales Kotalik, watched Briere unleash a slap shot from the left circle. The puck found its way through traffic with 7:46 remaining in the third period.
The Sabres had to overcome two penalties that put the Rangers up a man for 3:55 of the last 4:28 in the first overtime.
Sabres center Derek Roy nearly won the game on a short-handed rush with less than a minute left. Dainius Zubrus muscled the puck into the Rangers zone, and Roy met it at the top of the left circle. His slap shot hit the inside of the far post and caromed along the goal line. The goal judge flipped the switch on the red lamp, but play continued until the final horn, when a review showed the puck didn't cross the line.
"In the big picture, we knew it was going to be a hard series," Drury said. "We knew it wasn't going to be easy. They got a lot of great players. They play well at home. Obviously, it's win one game and go home, 3-1."