It was just such a stage that prompted the Rangers to willingly part with Ryan Callahan— the organization’s heart and soul — at the trade deadline for Martin St. Louis.
So there was St. Louis, 6:02 into overtime, collecting Carl Hagelin’s diagonal cross-ice pass before whipping a shot past Dustin Tokarski.
“You get this far and you have to trust yourself,” St. Louis said after his sixth goal of the playoffs gave the Rangers a 3-2 overtime win against the Canadiens in Game 4 Sunday night at the Garden.
The Rangers lead the best-of-seven series 3-1. Game 5 is Tuesday at the Bell Centre. The Rangers are 12-1 all-time in Stanley Cup playoff series in which they have a 3-1 series lead.
“We were well aware of the opportunity we had,” St. Louis said. “It’s a big plus for our club to go to Montreal up 3-1.”
The Rangers are one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993-94. Sunday marked the 20th anniversary of Mark Messier’s Game 6 1994 Eastern Conference finals hat trick against the Devils. The Rangers won Game 7 of that series on Stephane Matteau’s double-overtime wraparound goal, and would go on to end the franchise’s 54-year Cup drought by beating the Canucks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Before they can compete for the Cup, though, there is the matter of putting away a Canadiens team that has been their equal in Games 2 through 4.
“You just have to keep the same mindset that you had for the first four or five games,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 27 saves to win his 11th game of these playoffs, and record his franchise-record tying 41st Stanley Cup playoff win. “You don’t think about what’s ahead.”
Sunday night’s game was mostly played by the specialty units as the Rangers committed eight penalties in Game 4, including seven in the offensive zone. Two of the offensive zone penalties were taken by Benoit Pouliot, including a holding the stick penalty 30 seconds into overtime.
“We were definitely undisciplined,” Carl Hagelin said. “We took a few too many tripping and high-sticking calls. The refs are always going to call those. We have got to play smarter in [Game 5] but we did a great job on the [penalty kill].”
The Rangers killed seven of the eight power plays, and are 16-for-17 down a man in the series.
“We had the opportunity on the power play and we didn’t take advantage,” Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien said. “Yes, we scored a goal but we gave one up. I thought our power play had to be better.”
The shorthanded goal Therrien referred to was Hagelin’s sixth of the playoffs 7:18 into the game. Brian Boyle sprung Hagelin for a breakaway with a stretch pass, and the left wing waited until Tokarski (26 saves) committed before snapping a shot past the rookie goaltender.
The Rangers had a lead, but could never get into a flow five on five due to the parade to the penalty box.
“It makes guys [sit] a little bit more on the bench,” Ryan McDonagh said. “When we were on five on five we had good pace.”
So, too, did the Canadiens, who drew even at 1-1 8:08 into the second period when Francis Bouillon’s off-the-rush drive beat Lundqvist.
Still, the Rangers went into the second intermission leading 2-1 after Derick Brassard’s slap shot targeted Tokarski stick side with 54 seconds left in the period. The goal was Brassard’s first of the series, and his fifth of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I knew I was going short side,” Brassard said. “I was lucky enough for it to go in.”
The lead lasted for all 2:54 spanning the second and third periods, as P.K. Subban tied the game 2-2 two minutes into the third with a slapshot on the power play.
“His shot, it hit the guy in the middle and went back five hole” Lundqvist said.
From that point, the teams traded chances. Montreal outshot the Rangers 8-6 in the third. The teams finished with the exact same amount of shots on goal (29) and attempted shots (56). The best scoring opportunity in the third was Alex Galchenyuk’s off-wing drive, which hit the post and rolled along the line.
“That was a nerve-wracking time,” Marc Staal said. “It’s a couple inches away from the goal line.”
Yet, it didn’t cross and the game remained deadlocked at 2-2 until St. Louis’ game-winner.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.