It was a fluke, something that happens maybe once or twice a year in practice, but one unlucky tumble was all it took for the Rangers to climb back into Game 4 and, ultimately, avoid elimination by the Bruins.
With Carl Hagelin speeding up the ice and battling defenseman Johnny Boychuk in a race to the net, Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask took one little ill-fated step and went tumbling onto his seat in the crease. He watched helplessly as Hagelin’s deflected shot fluttered across the goal line at 8:39 of the second period.
It was a turning point in the game, and the Rangers never looked back.
The Rangers rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to edge the Bruins 4-3 in overtime at Madison Sqaure Garden on Thursday, sending the series to Boston for Game 5 on Saturday. The Rangers still trail the Bruins in the series 3-1.
The Rangers showed resolve, moxie and determination in avoiding a series sweep from Boston, and it was a single stroke of luck that gave the team the jolt they needed. Rask said his skate got caught in a rut and he lost his balance. "The rest," he said, "is history."
“We gained a lot of energy and confidence after that,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who finished the night with 37 saves. “And the game changed. It really did.”
Lundqvist called Hagelin’s marker “probably the ugliest goal I’ve ever seen,” but no one was complaining.
“That was a funny goal, but a goal’s a goal,” said center Derick Brassard, who made the saucer pass to set up the play.
It would be a lie to say the Rangers trailed 3-0 heading into Game 3 because of a few bounces the other way. In fact, they have been outplayed by a deeper, more balanced Bruins squad that asserted itself in the first three games.
But the Rangers will take what they can get at this time of year and they can salvage some pride in knowing they will not see their postseason hopes snuffed out without a fight.
“We’re still breathing,” coach John Tortorella said.
The Rangers looked inspired after cutting a 2-0 Bruins lead in half on Hagelin’s marker. With a re-energized home crowd buzzing at MSG, the Rangers dominated the next few shifts, but failed to knot the score before the second period ended.
They managed to do so early in the third, however, when Derek Stepan picked Zdeno Chara’s pocket behind the net to catch an unsuspecting Rask for a game-tying wraparound goal, 1:15 into play.
“I think Carl’s goal gave us life,” Stepan said. “I think from there something we really focused on was just winning one game. Then we are down by a goal going into the third, and the talk is just to relax and play. We’ve kind of got nothing to lose, and found a way to win a period.”
That sense of desperation was apparent before the puck even dropped, as Tortorella made the bold decision to scratch veteran center and alternate captain Brad Richards.
It was a difficult choice for the fiery coach, who has a long history with the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner with whom he won a Stanley Cup championship in Tampa in 2004. After the game he passionately defended both the player and the decision.
“He’s a hell of a hockey player who’s having a hell of a time,” he said.
Even without one of their most well-respected leaders, the Rangers battled back to erase another third-period deficit, as Brian Boyle notched the equalizer midway though the frame. It was the Rangers' first power-play goal in 23 attempts.
It was the fifth time in franchise history that the Rangers won a postseason game in overtime when facing elimination and the first time since beating the Devils in Game 7 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals on Stephane Matteau's iconic wraparound goal.
The Devils exacted some payback last season, ousting the Rangers from the playoffs in the conference finals on Adam Henrique's overtime game-winner. The Rangers refused to go out that way Thursday night.
“I didn’t think about last season at all,” said Lundqvist, who entered Game 4 with a playoff overtime record of 3-11. “I did think that it is time for us to win an overtime game. This was a big one. It was do or die.”