Why New York won: For two periods, the Rangers were not the better team in Game 4. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist helped them weather the storm after they fell down 2-0 and the Blueshirts got back in the game by being opportunistic. Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan each scored rather fluky goals and left Boston scratching its head as to why the game was tied 1:15 into the third period. New York outplayed Boston in the third and won in overtime for the same reason: it did a good job sending its large forwards right up the gut and into Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask’s face. Brian Boyle’s third period power play marker and Chris Kreider’s overtime-winner were scored by charging into the slot with speed.
Why Boston lost: I dare call the Bruins a bit unlucky tonight. The Rangers looked flat as can be until Hagelin’s odd goal, a trickler just out of a stumbling Rask’s reach. They got burned on a borderline penalty for too many men on the ice, which led to the Rangers tying the game 3-3. And in overtime, Lundqvist outplayed Rask with a few key saves early.
Play of the game: On a 2-on-2 rush in overtime, Rick Nash was like a quarterback exploiting a mismatched receiver and defensive back. He threaded the puck to Kreider, who turned promising but inexperienced Dougie Hamilton inside out and deftly redirected the puck past Rask, extending the series to Game 5.
1. Derek Stepan – Was a feisty presence around Boston’s net. Stripped Zdeno Chara to plug in New York’s second goal and set up Boyle’s equalizer.
2. Tyler Seguin – A goal (his first of the playoffs), an assist and six shots. Finally had that breakout game and the floodgates may be open now.
3. Henrik Lundqvist – What, no Kreider? The winner was nice, but he was a non-factor until that moment. The Rangers wouldn’t have had any chance to come back had Lundqvist not made a few huge saves and stopped 37 of 40 shots in total.
What’s next: The Rangers should study the film of Game 4 to avoid getting overconfident. They found their game after the second intermission, but if they come out in Game 5 as flat as they did in Game 4, Boston will send them packing. As for the Bruins, they should keep doing what they’re doing and the bounces should go their way in Game 5. Ignore any talk of them blowing a 3-0 series lead in 2010. They won the Stanley Cup the next season, remember? – Matt Larkin
Why Detroit Won: Just a textbook night in the Motor City. The Red Wings won key faceoffs, created turnovers in all zones and won the special teams battle. Plus, Jimmy Howard was outstanding in net. When it came to getting on the Hawks' defense, Detroit attacked in myriad ways, from Justin Abdelkader rocking Niklas Hjalmarsson with a big hit into the backboards to Gustav Nyquist creating havoc with his skating and active stick. Total team effort on this one.
Why Chicago Lost: Because Jonathan Toews lost his mind in the second period. OK, maybe that's a little too simplistic, but for the captain of the Hawks to take three consecutive minor penalties in one frame is pretty stunning and firmly shifted momentum to Detroit as the Wings scored on one of those advantages. Otherwise, the Hawks couldn't capitalize on their own power plays and let their emotions get the better of them, while the Wings stayed cool and collected throughout.
Play of the Game: Jonathan Ericsson's big hit on Bryan Bickell left the Hawks tough guy in a state of distress and emphasized that the Red Wings were not going to be outplayed in any facet of the game.
1. Jimmy Howard: Tough to beat a shutout if you're a netminder. Howard was positionally sound and calm under pressure. Though the Hawks sent some great scoring chances his way, he was a snuffer of dreams tonight.
2. Justin Abdelkader: On top of his physical play and emotional leadership, Abdelkader set up the perfect screen in front of goalie Corey Crawford on Jakub Kindl's opening goal.
3. Niklas Kronwall: Played a team-high 23:40 of ice time, blocked a couple shots and broke up several dangerous Chicago attacks.
What’s Next: The Blackhawks need to get their act together fast, since they are now surprisingly facing elimination. Clearly Toews' meltdown was an isolated incident – a fugue state, if you will – and he'll be back to his two-way best in Game 5. Before and after the penalty parade, Toews actually played a feisty and offensively dangerous game, so you know he's dialled in – he may have been just a little too overzealous tonight. If the Hawks can established a rhythm in Game 5, they have the scorers to make this a series. Otherwise, the Red Wings will be a well-rested underdog heading into the conference final. – Ryan Kennedy
Why Los Angeles Won: The Kings hadn't really been the dominant team for consecutive periods in this series until Thursday night. They picked up where they left off in the third period of Game 4, freezing San Jose’s offense on the boards and dictating pace. The mood shifted in the third, though, and the game opened up to a lot more scoring chances and forced Jonathan Quick to be fantastic a few times. Ah, the benefits of having a Conn Smythe goalie.
Why San Jose Lost: Proof positive that momentum means nothing from game to game in a series as evenly matched as this, the Sharks came out on their heels and didn’t even generate one scoring chance until more than halfway through the game. When they did start getting some opportunities in Period 3, they either just missed from bad luck or were robbed by Quick. The Sharks looked like the faster team through four games, but in Game 5 Los Angeles was lighter on its toes.
Play of the Game: San Jose’s first scoring opportunity of the night – 31:19(!) into the game – was a dandy. Though it was tied 0-0 at the time, the Kings seemed to have control of the game. If the crafty saucer pass from Logan Couture was converted by Patrick Marleau, or if he could have swung the rebound in, this game would likely have opened up on offense earlier than it did and suddenly tilt in the Sharks favor.
1. Jonathan Quick: Didn’t start to be tested until late in the game, but made some huge saves. The highlighted play above prevented the Sharks from taking the lead – and a bunch late in the third period prevented them from getting one lucky bounce away.
2. Anze Kopitar: A Kings forward-high 22:15 of ice and 58 percent off the draw, Kopitar did well after being split from Dustin Brown. He finally got on the board this series with a goal that stood up as the game-winner.
3. Brent Burns: Don’t care if he was minus-1 or that his team lost in a shutout. Burns is an unpredictably exciting forward-turned-defenseman-turned-forward (he was drafted as a winger). He helped put some kick into San Jose’s step with a few rumbling bodychecks in the third period.
What’s Next: For the first time this series Los Angeles was the better team for most of the game, which has to be making Sharks fans nervous about their prospects of winning two more in a row. San Jose can’t allow the next game to get bogged down as long as it did in Game 5 because their strength is speed and puck pursuit to create offense. The Kings are only 1-4 on the road this post-season, so it wouldn’t be a surprise by any stretch of the imagination if this series went the distance. But if it does, San Jose is going to have to figure out a way to snap the Kings’ 13-game home winning streak to move on. And there’s a long way to go until Game 7. – Rory Boylen