Just call him a playoff saint. Martin St. Louis continued a storybook postseason by delivering a clutch overtime winner lifting the Rangers to a thrilling 3-2 Game 4 win over the Canadiens at a raucous MSG. His goal at 6:02 of sudden death pulled the Rangers within one victory of reaching the Stanley Cup Final.
The play was made possible due to the hustle of Carl Hagelin and Brad Richards. With the Canadiens struggling to get out of their zone, Richards and Hagelin combined to force a turnover keeping the puck in. Hagelin turned and passed for a wide open St. Louis at the right circle. One on one with Dustin Tokarski, who stoned him earlier, a patient St. Louis found just enough room going top shelf inside the post to touch off a wild celebration.
”I just got open,” said St. Louis, who finally figured out Tokarski after the 24-year old Canadien netminder had robbed him twice in Games 3 and 4. ”I tried to trust my instincts. I hit some good shots, he made some good saves. I was fortunate this one got by him.”
With Game 4 hanging in the balance along with this closely fought Eastern Conference Final, the Canadiens and Rangers needed overtime for a second consecutive game to decide the winner. On a night where Montreal had the majority of the play which included more brilliant play from Tokarski (26 saves), this one went to the home team for the first time in the series. Interestingly, the road team had won the last eight games in sudden death. With one majestic shot, St. Louis erased that.
The Rangers were able to overcome themselves. They were penalized eight times including once just 30 seconds into OT when Benoit Pouliot went to the box for holding the stick. It was exasperating for coach Alain Vigneault, who saw his team commit egregious penalties with most coming in the offensive zone. Their penalty kill bailed them out repeatedly. In fact, it took the Canadiens until the sixth try to finally capitalize when P.K. Subban finally got a shot through that deflected past Henrik Lundqvist tying it at two with 18:00 left in regulation.
A good part of the third period, it looked like Montreal would find a way to sneak one more past Lundqvist and even the series with Game 5 looming back at Bell Centre on Tuesday. They came awfully close with Game 3 overtime hero Alex Galchenyuk hitting the crossbar with 3:23 left. Lundqvist got just enough of it to send the puck off the bar. Fortunately, it never crossed the goal line.
The Canadiens controlled most of the OT by getting dangerous chances that forced Lundqvist to be sharp. That included their eighth power play which kept the puck in for a long time. Lundqvist made one save and an exhausted Rangers penalty kill did just enough to get out of trouble. Lundqvist made a couple of difficult stops including an Andrei Markov low try through a screen. He also squeezed the pads to deny Brian Gionta.
The winning play was started by a strong shift from the fourth line. Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett did a good job getting the puck in deep. That allowed the Rangers to get fresh players on. Hagelin, who back in the first scored a shorthanded goal on a breakaway, had a great shift. His speed has been noticeable the last two games. It was his tenacious checking that resulted in St. Louis’ winner.
”He has been great for us ever since he got here,” Hagelin praised of St. Louis. ”He shows a lot of tenacity and emotion every time he steps on the ice.”
”I’m really proud to be out there with those guys, and hopefully can keep it going a little more,” Lundqvist said after making 27 saves with five coming in sudden death.
Similar to Game 3, the Rangers started quickly. A Tokarski strong stop preempted a Ranger power play that halted. The parade to the penalty box saw Miller, Pouliot and Moore all take bad penalties. Despite that, an aggressive Rangers penalty kill didn’t give up anything. While killing Pouliot’s first minor, Brian Boyle took a Ryan McDonagh pass and made a great outlet that sprung Hagelin, who moved in and tucked a backhand five-hole on Tokarski for a shorthanded goal at 7:18.
Aided by the power play and better puck possession, Montreal was able to take the lead in shots (11-9). However, it wasn’t overly impressive. While the Habs struggled on the man-advantage, they didn’t hesitate to tug and slash Rangers. One such scenario saw Max Pacioretty get away with one in the corner, repeatedly hooking Dan Girardi. When there was a break, Vigneault had a heated discussion with Dan O’Rourke. On the flipside, you had Michel Therrien hot after Rick Nash pushed Tokarski following a save. He didn’t freeze the puck.
Montreal recovered to tie it thanks to an unlikely source. New York native Francis Bouillon was the beneficiary of some strong work in the neutral zone from Rene Bourque and David Desharnais. An overzealous Girardi got turned around turning it into a 2-on-1 with Bouillon firing past Lundqvist’s glove 8:08 into the second.
Despite continuing to lose their discipline, the Rangers managed to outshoot the Canadiens 11-6. A couple of penalties were followed by embellishment from the Habs. One Subban reaction drew the ire of NBC analyst Mike Milbury between periods. In between that, Tokarski was very strong robbing St. Louis on a clean break with a tremendous glove save. He also got across to deny Brassard. There also was some feistiness from Markov, who injured J.T. Miller during a scrum. Miller didn’t return for the third or overtime.
With the Rangers and Canadiens still locked at 1-1, Girardi caught Montreal napping. Taking a Lundqvist pass, he made a seam pass for an isolated Brassard at the Habs’ blueline. With no one between him and Tokarski, he broke in and wound up for a slap shot that easily beat the Montreal netminder to restore a one-goal lead with under a minute left.
It didn’t hold. A Moore trip 32 seconds into the third led directly to Subban’s first of the series. Desharnais started it by dishing to Markov at one point. He quickly passed for Subban, who rifled one home two minutes in which tied it at two. The Canadiens failed on another power play. They outshot the Rangers 8-6 and had better chances. But didn’t get the bounce on Galchenyuk’s try.
Thanks to clutch goaltending from Lundqvist, the Rangers cashed in their one chance with St. Louis striking for a memorable finish. One more win and they get to play for the Cup 20 years later.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Derick Brassard, NYR (breakaway goal-5th, 18-for-24 on faceoffs, +1 in 25 shifts-14:37)
2nd Star-Carl Hagelin, NYR (SHG-6th, assist, 4 SOG, 6 attempts, +2 in 35 shifts-23:44)
1st Star-Martin St. Louis, NYR (scored winner at 6:02 of 1st overtime-6th, team high 5 SOG, +1 in 30 shifts-21:01-inspirational)