By Brian Cazeneuve
NEW YORK -- Down three games to none, the New York Rangers kept their season alive with a fair amount of stick-to-it-iveness, and a couple of gifts from their guests, coming from behind twice in regulation and getting the winning goal in overtime to defeat the Boston Bruins, 4-3, and gain a toe-hold in their playoff series. Some thoughts on a back-and-forth Game 4:
• Rangers coach John Tortorella decided it was finally time to sit his struggling veteran center, Brad Richards. For sure, Richards is a Tortorella favorite. The two go back to Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup victory in 2004. Though Richards, a high-priced free agent, has played on New York’s first line for most of his tenure with the Rangers, he has been seeing fewer and fewer minutes as the playoffs have progressed. Tortorella also benched tough guy Arron Asham. With defenseman Anton Stralman out with an injury, New York added forwards Kris Newbury and Michael Haley and veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik to the lineup for their first games of the series.
• If the Bruins had a right to ease off the gas after taking a 3-0 series lead, they didn’t cash in their slow-motion card. With the crowd at Madison Square Garden trying to fire up the Rangers, Boston outshot New York, 9-2, during the first ten minutes.
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• Shawn Thornton may be known as an enforcer, but he is also a very smart enforcer. Shortly after Boston’s first goal at 4:39 of the second period, a couple of Rangers pests, Newbury and Derek Dorsett, began poking at Thornton to start a scrap. He would have had a strong advantage in either instance, but with the momentum already squarely in his team’s favor, Thornton didn’t get suckered into either confrontation. Neither did Brad “Little-ball-of-hate” Marchand, who got tangled up with Rangers forward Derick Brassard along the sideboards. Brassard dropped his stick and gloves, but Marchand skated away.
• Boston frequently caught New York running around in its own zone on Thursday. The Bruins' first two goals -- power-play strikes by Nathan Horton and Torey Krug early in the second period -- occurred when the Rangers were overloaded with three players on one side of the ice, making it easier for Boston to outman them on the weak side.
• New York took advantage of a lucky deflection to get on the board at 8:39 of the second period. Rangers forward Carl Hagelin, the man who “stinks” on the power play, according to his coach, collected a pass at Boston’s blueline and tried to send a backhand in on Tuukka Rask. Boston's goalie fell and the puck squirted past him.
• Tuukka took a nap on a Rangers dump-in and it cost him a 2-2 tie at 1:15 of the third period. Rick Nash shot the puck around the boards, leaving Rask to play it behind his net. He then left it for defenseman Zdeno Chara, who looked in front of him, up the ice, assuming he had ample time and space to move it. To Chara’s surprise, Rangers forward Derek Stepan sneaked in behind him, lifted the puck off his stick and tucked it into the open net as Rask was far too slow getting back into his crease. “We gave them a couple of gifts, obviously,” Rask said. “At the end of the day, that’s what cost us.”
• The way Tyler Seguin has pressed the attack, it was a matter of time before he put one in. The Bruins’ leader in shots on goal during the playoffs put six on Lundqvist, who kicked the first one aside with an outstretched right pad, but Seguin potted the rebound to give his team a 3-2 lead at 8:06 of the third period. The Bruins’ sniper then punched the glass behind Rask in relief as much as celebration. It was his first playoff goal in 11 games this year.
• New York's anemic power play actually knotted the game at 3-3 less than two minutes later. The problem for the Rangers has often been their inability to gain the zone successfully. This time, Brassard managed to get Boston’s Daniel Paille to turn his head the wrong way, enabling New York to enter on the right side of the ice. Brassard made a lead pass to Stepan, who lured Boston’s defense towards the goal line before finding Brian Boyle open in the slot. Boyle then beat Rask for New York’s first power-play goal since Game 4 against Washington in the first round.
• Dorsett may be one of New York’s more aggressive players, but he took better than he gave in the second minute of overtime when Boychuk caught him square in center ice. The Boston defenseman took a step back before gliding back into Dorsett in what is probably one of the hits of the year.
• Chris Kreider’s overtime goal is a feel-good story that could have implications for next season. Kreider came up for the playoffs last season after a good run at Boston College and made a quick impact with his speed and advanced offensive instincts. But without training camp this season, he seemed out of place in New York’s scheme of things and often compounded mistakes with his lack of confidence. With the lineup changes on Thursday, Tortorella moved him onto a line with Nash and Brassard, giving him the type of role that many feel he will play more often as he develops. “Regardless of how people think things have been going for me,” Kreider said after the game, “I’ve never doubted myself.”
• In looking ahead to Game 5, Tortorella wouldn’t commit to keeping the same lineup, but he did make a significant point about Richards, saying that he didn’t feel the veteran center, a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner, could be a seven- or eight-minute per game player, essentially not someone he would want to play on the fourth line. If Richards gets back into the series, it seems, it will have to be on one of New York’s top lines, an unlikely prospect at the moment.
• With the victory, Tortorella ironically moved into third place on New York’s all-time list of playoff coaching wins, with 19, one better than Colin Campbell, whose son, Gregory, now plays for the Bruins.