Chris Kreider had the New York Rangers’ season on his stick.
"It wasn’t on there for a very long time," joked Kreider, whose redirection of Rick Nash’s pass 7:03 into overtime enabled the Rangers to earn a 4-3 victory over the Boston Bruins in Game 4 and stave off playoff elimination Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Bruins still lead the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals series 3-1.
But at least the Rangers are still alive.
Game 5 is Saturday afternoon at TD Garden.
"You guys have been kicking my ass all around all year long about [my not] wanting to play him, and he steps up and makes a big play for us," coach John Tortorella said after Kreider notched his first goal of the playoffs.
Coming off an impressive postseason after being signed right out of Boston College in 2012, the 22-year-old "rookie" was supposed to play a pivotal role on this season’s team.
But after getting off to a sluggish start, Kreider was frequently sent down to the AHL, and Tortorella said at one point that he was "worried" about his young winger’s development.
Luckily, Kreider began picking up his play at the end of the season, and entered the playoffs on the team’s third line due to injuries to Ryane Clowe and Brian Boyle. Despite Kreider's leaving Game 3 after being struck by a high stick late in the third period, Tortorella decided to elevate Kreider to the second line with Derick Brassard and Nash.
And it was Kreider and Nash who combined for the OT winner.
The two wingers began skating up ice on a 2-on-2 breakout. Kreider dished the puck to Nash in the neutral zone and proceeded toward the net. Nash stopped on a dime at the right-wing boards and whipped a pass to Kreider, who beat Dougie Hamilton in the slot and redirected the puck over Tuukka Rask’s right shoulder, sending the sellout crowd into a frenzy.
"I tried to give it to Rick, which was something I was trying to do a lot tonight; he’s such a talented player," Kreider said. "And then I just tried to drive the net and put my stick on the ice, and he was able to find my tape. That’s what he does."
So, what’s it like scoring the game-winning goal at MSG, anyway?
"So surreal," said Kreider, who had five goals in 18 games during the 2012 postseason but had just two tallies in 23 contests this year. "Not something that can really be explained. It’s just something that has to be felt. It was awesome. Just exciting to give these guys an opportunity to play another day."
Said Derek Stepan: "He’s got a knack for doing that. Don’t forget that. He did it last year in the playoffs, too."
After the game, Kreider was peppered with questions about his up-and-down campaign.
But he didn’t feel like answering them.
"I think regardless of how people think the season went for me, I think I learned a lot," he said. "I was surrounded by unbelievable players, unbelievable coaches and staff, so I think it’s been a very positive year for me."
And, as a result of his goal, his team’s season continues.
"Like I said, there’s no quit in this room," Kreider said.