For many of the 66 minutes in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final series on Sunday night, the New York Rangers did everything they could to beat themselves. Hook followed tug followed interference as a steady stream of Rangers slinked off to the penalty box after lazy indiscretions in the offensive zone threatened to derail the team's hopes for a crucial win on home ice. Yet after that ugly onslaught of self-infliction, the Rangers saved their best and most artistic for last. With a bull's-eye wrist shot from the right side of the ice, Martin St. Louis lifted New York to a 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens at 6:02 of overtime and a 3-1 lead in a series that has had its share of unsightly hockey.
Carl Hagelin and Derick Brassard scored on breakaways and Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves to earn his franchise-record-tying 41st playoff win for the Rangers. The Canadiens scored just once on eight power-play chances – P.K. Subban's equalizer two minutes into the third period -- as New York committed six penalties in the offensive zone. Before St. Louis' clincher, both teams tried mightily to give the game away. Now the Rangers can heave a sigh of relief as they are one win away from a trip to their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years. "It was very emotional," said forward Brad Richards. "Overtime games bring it out anyway, but it would have been devastating to go back there without getting one at home."
Here are some observations from Game 4:
• Given the pregame suspensions of New York's Daniel Carcillo and Montreal's Brandon Prust, and the tough talk among the players and coaches, it made sense to expect that the game would be chippy. It wasn't. Instead, the operative word for the night was "choppy." With a humid 85-degree day in New York City, the ice in Madison Square Garden was extremely difficult to play on, and as the game moved along it led to turnovers and forced players from both sides to shoot rather than make plays in tight ice when given the chance. The exception was New York's first goal at 7:18 of the opening period. Brian Boyle hit Hagelin with a lead pass, splitting Montreal's defense. Hagelin then slid a backhander between the pads of Dustin Tokarski, giving New York the lead.
• Lundqvist made a spectacular save with 12 minutes gone in the first and Montreal on a power play. Tomas Plekanec drove a shot from the right half-wall and the Rangers' goalie stopped the puck with his body. The rebound bounced to his right side and it appeared that Habs forward Brian Gionta would have an easy conversion, but Lundqvist kicked out his right skate, denying the chance, with Gionta unable to elevate the puck.
• As the series has moved along, Montreal has tried taking more angle shots against Lundqvist, hoping for deflections or jam plays at the net. "We have to put traffic in front of him," Montreal's Francois Bouillon said after the game. "Shoot the puck from everywhere."
• The Habs evened the score at 1-1 with eight minutes left in the second period as Bouillon beat Lundqvist with a wrist shot over the glove after skating into the Rangers' zone on a two-on-one. When New York defenseman Marc Staal slid while trying to block the shot, Bouillon lifted the puck over Lundqvist, who may have been distracted.
• The Rangers took another penalty in the offensive zone with four minutes left in the second period. Near the end of the penalty kill, Subban pulled Rick Nash down, but Nash was able to chip a pass to St. Louis, who broke in alone on Tokarski. Perhaps taking the subpar ice conditions into account, St. Louis simply aimed for the top right corner, but Tokarski got the puck with his glove. Both players, no doubt, made mental notes about the play. And as the Canadiens were nearly done killing their penalty, they got careless, losing sight of the middle of the ice. Brassard popped through an opening and was led by an easy pass from defenseman Dan Girardi before drilling a slapper past Tokarski from 20 feet away.
• Even with poor conditions, both teams spent much of the game attempting long stretch passes through the center of the ice – something they did earlier in the series. New York seemed to have picked up on the Canadiens' weakness during the first game in Montreal, but this looked like an adjustment that both teams made in between games.
• With Montreal on the power play early in the third period, Subban blasted a shot past Lundqvist from 40 feet out. It seemed to hit something on the way in, but it was a rocket. Subban had time to step into it and he can beat any goalie with a rip like that. It was the first time that New York had surrendered a power-play goal after 27 straight kills. "All night it was just get through that next kill, then the next one, then the next one," said Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. "It was hard to get the right guys on the ice, hard to get any rhythm and flow going, but we just found a way."
• It was also a case when the Canadiens actually hit the net. With 14:33 of total time on the man advantage, the Habs misfired far too often, even with pucks bouncing and hopping over their defensemen's sticks during passes back to the point. "Not good enough," said captain Brian Gionta. "We know we have to do more than get good looks; we have to do something with them."
• Tokarski has been a gamer during his first stretch under the NHL microscope, but he did have a noticeable flaw in the games at MSG: He left a lot of rebounds around his feet, giving his defense an extra assignment and forcing them to turn to face him in order to clear things away rather than keep their eyes on the center of the ice. As a result, Montreal did not have much of a transition game, apart from the stretch pass.
• On the winning goal, Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov had a chance to clear the puck out of his zone, but didn't get enough on the attempt. Hagelin intercepted it at the left point and fed St. Louis, who was skating towards the right circle., for a wrist shot over Tokarski's glove to give New York the victory. "I had some decent looks tonight," St. Louis said. "The puck bounced a couple of times, so you just have to concentrate on your next opportunity. You get this far and you have to trust yourself."
• The Rangers should not be satisfied. They had breakdowns in discipline that the Canadiens were unable to exploit, and they can't always expect to get away with them, especially as the series returns to Montreal. "I mean it's a win in our quest to four," coach Alain Vigneault said after the game. "We put ourselves behind the eight ball a few times by taking, I think was five [actually six] penalties 200 feet from our net. We're going to have to do a much better job than that."
The Rangers and Canadiens will meet in Game 5 on Tuesday night in Montreal at 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
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