NEW YORK – During a sluggish first period, a difficult second period, and a tense third period, there were few signs the New York Rangers would be able to hold off the Boston Bruins and extend their season for at least one more game.
The Rangers played poorly in the opening 20 minutes, but managed to get to intermission in a scoreless tie. Offensively challenged New York fell behind by two goals in the second and trailed by one twice in the third.
Yet, the Rangers dug out of those deficits and were still tied at the end of regulation. Surely the overtime bug would bite them again, no?
No. Not this time.
Chris Kreider deftly deflected a pass from Rick Nash past goalie Tuukka Rask 7:03 into the extra period, and the Rangers escaped with a 4-3 victory in Game 4 Thursday night that kept them alive in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
"Tonight is a good example of just how deep we are," Kreider said. "There is no quit in this room."
Derek Stepan and Brian Boyle scored tying goals in the third period for the Rangers, who even found a bit of success on the power play. Carl Hagelin netted New York's first goal in the second.
Henrik Lundqvist made 37 saves for New York, which totaled only five goals while losing the first three games of the series. The Rangers still trail 3-1 and will need to win Saturday in Boston to force a Game 6 back at Madison Square Garden.
"This was a big one," Lundqvist said. "It was such a great feeling to see that puck go in."
The Rangers, who were outshot 40-32, won a faceoff deep in their zone, and Nash rushed the puck up ice. He stopped above the right circle and fed a hard pass in front that Kreider skated into and tipped in for his first of the playoffs.
"It is so surreal," the 22-year-old Kreider said. "It's not something that can really be explained. It is something that just has to be felt, but it was awesome. I'm just excited to give these guys an opportunity to play another game."
New York, which improved to 1-3 in overtime in these playoffs, was eliminated from the conference finals last year by New Jersey after regulation in Game 6.
"There is no negativity in the room," defenseman Dan Girardi said. "We're not worrying about anything else that is going on. We knew we just had to win one game. Now we have to go to Boston and try to win another one."
Kreider, who made his NHL debut in last year's playoffs, has six postseason goals in just 25 games.
Boston got second-period goals from Nathan Horton and rising star Torey Krug to build an early lead. Tyler Seguin's first of the playoffs put the Bruins back on top 3-2 in the third.
Only three teams have lost a series after leading 3-0, but the Bruins are the most recent to do it in 2010 against Philadelphia.
One more win will put Boston into the conference finals for the second time in three years. The Bruins gave up a 3-1 lead to Toronto in the first round before rallying in Game 7 to advance.
"There is no panic here," coach Claude Julien said. "We have to go back home and play a better game."
Stepan got New York even at 2 just 1:15 into the third after a dump-in. Rask went behind the net to slow the puck down for defenseman Zdeno Chara, but Stepan forced a turnover when he surprised Chara from behind.
Stepan gathered the puck and tucked it inside the left post for his team-leading fourth of the playoffs.
"We made some mistakes, mistakes we haven't been making, mistakes you can't have, and they capitalized on them," Chara said. "They made us pay."
The Bruins made the most of another power play and took a 3-2 lead just 2 seconds after a goalie interference penalty against Ryan McDonagh expired. Seguin got to his own rebound in close and shoved a shot past Lundqvist at 8:06.
However, the Rangers still wouldn't go away and they finally connected on the power play for the first time in the series and the third time in 41 man-advantages this postseason.
Boyle took a pass from Stepan in the slot and snapped a drive that nestled into the middle of the net at 10:00 after the Bruins were caught with too many men on the ice.
New York coach John Tortorella made desperate moves with his lineup, hoping to find some chemistry to spark his club. Tortorella benched star center Brad Richards, who had just one goal in the playoffs, and rugged forward Arron Asham in favor of seldom-used Kris Newbury and Micheal Haley.
"By no means is this a situation where I take him out and I'm blaming him," Tortorella said of Richards. "I need to make decisions about what I feel is right for our team to win."
Veteran Roman Hamrlik also played for the first time in these playoffs in place of injured defenseman Anton Stralman, who left Game 3 in the second period.
The Bruins used their power play to grab control in the second period, connecting twice in a span of 3:02 to take a 2-0 lead.
After Newbury was sent off for goalie interference, when he knocked down Rask, Horton got the scoring going. He tried to feed a pass from the bottom of the left circle into the slot, but the puck hit Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto and bounced back to Horton.
This time, Horton let a shot go that struck the inside of Lundqvist's left leg and caromed in at 4:39.
Lundqvist blocked a hard shot by Chara, who rattled a drive off of the goalie's mask. At the next stoppage, there was a brief delay as Lundqvist had repairs made.
Del Zotto took an interference penalty 1:25 after Boston took the lead, and Krug made the Rangers pay again. Krug, a rookie defenseman who made his NHL postseason debut in the series opener, fired a slap shot from the Stanley Cup logo in the Rangers' zone that sailed past Lundqvist and into the top right corner at 7:41.
Krug has scored in three of the four games he has played in this series, and his goal gave Boston as many power-play tallies at Madison Square Garden in this playoff year as the host Rangers had mustered to that point.
But New York got a big break just 54 seconds later to cut the deficit in half.
As the Rangers were moving the puck up ice, Rask stumbled in the crease and fell at around the same time that Hagelin was backhanding a shot on net. Sliding as slowly as possible, the puck eluded Rask as he tried to recover in time to stop it.
"I just took a step to the side in what I think probably was a skate mark or something," Rask said. "I lost my balance, and the rest is history.
"We gave them a couple of gifts and it cost us the game."