Martin St. Louis found another way to lift up his New York Rangers teammates. This time he carried them within one win of the Stanley Cup finals.
What St. Louis lacks in physical size, he compensates with heart. Since he rejoined the club one day after the unexpected death of his mother, without missing a game, St. Louis has provided inspiration on and off the ice.
Now he also is delivering the clutch offense he has always been known for.
St. Louis scored his sixth goal of the playoffs 6:02 into overtime to give the Rangers a 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday night.
New York leads the series 3-1 and can advance to the championship round for the first time since claiming the Cup 20 years ago as early as Tuesday night in Montreal. The Rangers won the first two games on the road before losing Game 3 in overtime Thursday night.
"It’s a big difference up 3-1 instead of 2-2 going back to Montreal," St. Louis said. "We were obviously disappointed with the result last game. We thought we played a good game. That’s just hockey. Tonight we are on a good end, and it’s a big plus."
A loose puck came to St. Louis, alone in the right circle, and he fired a snap shot over goalie Dustin Tokarski’s shoulder.
"I just got open," said St. Louis, who has 39 career playoff goals. "I tried to trust my instincts. I hit some good shots, he made some good saves. I was fortunate this one got by him."
The Rangers won after squandering a pair of one-goal leads.
"I just remember there was a turnover somewhere around the neutral zone. I’m not sure," Tokarski said. "St. Louis had some time and picked a corner on me. It’s a game of inches, and we came up a bit short."
Carl Hagelin put the Rangers in front with a short-handed tally in the first period, and Derick Brassard made it 2-1 in the second. Hagelin also assisted on St. Louis’ winner.
Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves and earned his 41st postseason win, tying the franchise record of Mike Richter, who was in attendance. He also earned an assist on Brassard’s goal for his first career postseason point.
"I’m really proud to be out there with those guys, and hopefully can keep it going a little more," Lundqvist said.
The Rangers are 6-1 since the death of St. Louis’ mother galvanized the team. St. Louis was acquired from Tampa Bay at the March trade deadline for former captain Ryan Callahan.
"He has been great for us ever since he got here," said Hagelin, who also scored his sixth goal. "He shows a lot of tenacity and emotion every time he steps on the ice."
Francis Bouillon tied it for Montreal in the second, and fellow defenseman P.K. Subban made it 2-2 in the third with a power-play goal. David Desharnais assisted on both for Montreal. Tokarski stopped 26 shots for the Canadiens, who went 1 for 8 on the power play.
"By no means are we counting ourselves out," Canadiens captain Brian Gionta said. "It’s a tough loss, it’s a bitter loss, but at the end of the day we are still in this series. I still like our chances with two games at home."
The Rangers rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the second round against Pittsburgh.
Though there were 13 minor penalties, there was no carry-over of the nastiness in Game 3 when a hit by Montreal’s Brandon Prust broke the jaw of New York forward Derek Stepan. Prust served the first game of a two-game suspension. Stepan sat out after having surgery.
The Rangers gave Montreal five power plays through the first two periods, and New York’s penalty-killers stood tall. But the sixth produced the tying goal 2 minutes into the third period when Subban scored his first goal of the series and first point in six games.
That broke the Rangers’ run of 27 straight killed penalties, dating to Game 2 of the second round.
Montreal came at the Rangers in waves for much of the third period and nearly grabbed the lead when Alex Galchenyuk, who scored in overtime of Game 3, struck the crossbar with 3:17 left in regulation.
Brassard, the focal point of some of the war of words between the two head coaches over the weekend, proved he has recovered from his Game 1 injury when he ripped a slap shot past Tokarski to restore the Rangers’ lead with 55.3 seconds left in the second.
Lundqvist stopped a puck behind the net and moved it up to Dan Girardi in the right circle. Girardi sent a pass nearly the length of the ice to Brassard, who grabbed the puck at the lower edge of the left circle, pulled his stick way back, held it loaded and then unleashed a drive that soared into the net for his fifth of the playoffs.
Brassard had missed most of the first three games of the series. Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said on Saturday he knew exactly what was ailing Brassard, comments that were perceived by the Rangers as a veiled threat.
The goal was a strong response by the Rangers, who lost their 1-0 lead at 8:08 of the second when Bouillon fired a shot in over Lundqvist’s left shoulder during a 2-on-1 break.
The Rangers put themselves into trouble by taking three straight offensive-zone penalties in the first period, but they were the ones who produced a goal during the power plays.
While Benoit Pouliot was serving the first few seconds of his high-sticking penalty against defenseman Alexei Emelin, the Rangers gained control of the puck after a faceoff in their end. Brian Boyle was deep in the zone when he spotted Hagelin streaking up the middle of the ice.
Boyle hit him in stride with a pass just before the blue line, and Hagelin carried the puck in alone, shifted to his backhand in close, and slid the puck in at 7:18. New York’s first short-handed goal of this postseason came 12 seconds into Pouliot’s penalty.