NEW YORK -- They still have a puncher's chance against a foe that has occasionally shown a glass jaw. That's the slender hope sustaining the New York Rangers after they avoided a series sweep Thursday night at Madison Square Garden against a frustrated Boston Bruins team that did fail to close them out, but may not quite be haunted yet.
Why? Because sandwiched between a couple of blown series leads that everyone will be reminding Boston about now after the mortifying gaffes they committed in Game 4, the Bruins did, you know … win the 2011 Stanley Cup.
But don't expect the Rangers to dwell on that last detail. Not after they saved a little face and rediscovered a little of themselves and gouged a 4-3 overtime victory that was won off the stick of Chris Kreider, the same kid whom Rangers coach John Tortorella was occasionally accused of mishandling during a sophomore season that Kreider spent yo-yoing between the NHL and the minors. This after making the leap from college straight to playoff stardom with five goals during the Rangers' postseason run a year ago.
"I'm so happy for Krieds. … You guys have been kicking my ass about not playing him more all year," Tortorella half-joked, half-growled at reporters.
"It is so surreal -- it's not something that can really be explained, it's something that just has to be felt," Krieder said of the bedlam that followed his season-saving, bang-bang goal.
With 7:03 elapsed in overtime, Rangers forward Rick Nash found Krieder driving to the net with an angle on Bruins defender Dougie Hamilton and fed him an absolutely perfect, seeing-eye pass past Boston captain Zdeno Chara, right onto Kreider's stick. When Kreider redirected it into the net in one motion, the Rangers were still alive for a Game 5, to be played Saturday in Boston. They even actually had a little reason to believe all the things that have been haunting them lately were starting to change.
For one thing, they scored four goals, which qualifies as an explosion for them. And the first two came on flukish plays that put a jolt of life and belief into their bench and plunged the Bruins into a growing state of irritation -- perhaps even a little self-loathing. Because as much as the Rangers hustled and persevered and made their own breaks in this game, the Bruins' flubs helped the Rangers stave off elimination, too.
The Rangers scored their first goal on a blooper-reel play just 48 seconds after falling behind 2-0 in the second period. Carl Hagelin tried to fire a shot on goal but it went dribbling off a Bruins defenseman's stick instead and began sliding slowly to the left of Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask just as Rask was sliding to his right -- then falling on his butt. The puck went into the net on a crawl because Rask had not only fallen but he couldn't get up. Even Hagelin, who had a rivulet of blood tricking out of his nose as he skated back up ice, had to laugh.
"That gave us life," admitted the Rangers' Derek Stepan, who then made two terrific plays to get the game to overtime.
With just 1:15 gone in the third period, Stepan snuck in behind the 6-foot-8 Chara and swept the puck off his stick behind the Bruins' goal, then stuffed it into the short side of the net before he or Rask could react.
That tied the game at 2. But again the Bruins went ahead. And again the Rangers fought back. This time, Stepan found Brian Boyle in the slot, and Boyle snapped a shot just beneath Rask's right arm to even the game at 3 with 10 minutes to play. Besides sending the game into overtime, the score also snapped the Rangers' 0-for-23 drought on the power play that Stepan admitted, "We'd begun to let take on a little life of its own."
Now the Rangers not only get to play on -- they're also finally getting their offense back a little. They still have the memory of how completely all-conquering goaltender Henrik Lundqvist shut the door on Washington in Games 6 and 7 of their last series. For one game, anyway, the Rangers' mounting injuries and dwindling depth didn't cost them. Tortorella decided to play 40-year-old defenseman Roman Hamrlik for the first time in 53 days, and -- in yet another sign it was going to be the Rangers' night -- Hamrlik had an assist on the Rangers' first goal.
Even Tortorella's decision to make assistant captain Brad Richards a healthy scratch and the troubling questions it will raise this offeason (considering his contract has seven years to go) was rendered a footnote in the victory. (It would've been an even less relevant storyline if Tortorella hadn't used an innocuous postgame question about Richards' benching to work himself into a brief but vintage rant in which he invited any skeptics who wanted to say he was blaming Richards for the Rangers' 0-3 series start to "kiss my ass.")
Forget that for now, too …
What both the Rangers and Boston will hear more about in the next two days is how the 2010 Bruins are one of only three NHL teams to allow an opponent to recover from a 3-0 hole and win a playoff series. And how the Bruins also blew a 3-1 series lead against Toronto before mounting one of the NHL's best miracle comebacks ever in Game 7.
Now the Rangers are alive for a Game 5. The Bruins blinked again.
Someone in the Rangers postgame locker room even suggested to Lundqvist, "All the pressure is on them now, I think."
"Um … they're still up 3-1," Lundqvist politely reminded him.