At the morning skate Tuesday, Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw was caught on video flipping a puck off the Madison Square Garden ceiling and catching it on the blade of his stick. The Rangers, meanwhile, spent their whole day planning a feat much less complicated yet intensely more difficult: Sheer playoff survival.
They knew what was at stake in Game 4 Tuesday night. It was not an elimination game for the Rangers but it might as well have been. A 3-1 deficit heading back to Montreal would have all but ended the season and probably the run that this Rangers core has enjoyed together. They had to play with utter desperation and razor sharp discipline and they did both.
With the 2-1 victory Tuesday night, they kept themselves alive in the Stanley Cup playoffs party just when it is getting good. In a year when the only overriding theme is that there is no overriding theme — No. 8 seeds are leading No. 1 seeds — the postseason is wide open for any team that can just stay alive. The Rangers did all of the right things Tuesday night to ensure that.
“It’s a fine line. You’ve got to kind of have controlled emotions out there,” said Rick Nash, who took a pass from captain Ryan McDonagh and slid a backhander under Carey Price at 4:28 of the second period — a star making a star-timed play that was the deciding goal.
McDonagh recognized how straightforward yet complicated their task was, following their awful performance on Garden ice Sunday night. They needed a major effort but they could not afford to give away the puck or take penalties. “There’s no real key. It’s just doing it,” he said. “Making sure that you take away time and space, stay in their face and when it’s time to back off, back off.”
Earlier in the day, Marc Staal had said, “The beautiful thing about playoff hockey is that a series can turn on a dime.” He was saying it in a desperately hopeful sense, but the dimes fell everywhere only hours before, in the four overtime games Monday. That whole night — only the third time in history in which there were four overtime games in one day — revealed the true beauty of playoff hockey: that a game can be decided in any instant by anyone from either side. There is no waiting for the bottom half of an inning, or a new series of downs or a change of possession.
No sport steps up its game from the regular season to the postseason like hockey. And playoff hockey is one of the greatest shows in all of sports.
“You’re never out of a series,” Staal said afterward. “We knew we needed to put a solid effort on the ice tonight and have a good chance of winning the game if we did that.”
The solid effort began with proof that there is one trick more difficult in hockey than flipping a puck off the ceiling and catching it on your stick: It is beating Henrik Lundqvist on a breakaway. Shaw had that chance 9:10 into the game, which was scoreless, and the Rangers goalie stuffed him, setting a tone. All of Lundqvist’s teammates took it from there.
They did it while executing another delicate balancing act. They recognized how much to forget from their loss Sunday and how much to remember, for motivational purposes. “A lot of guys had a lot of regrets in their game. That’s something you need to have,” McDonagh said.
Nash, allowing himself a smile when he was asked if this was their best outing of the postseason so far, said, “It was our best home game for sure. It was a tough couple days after Game 3.”
A series can turn on a dime and the Cup can come to a team that has enough good turns. If you hang around long enough, who knows what can happen? The Rangers were not shooting for the moon or even the roof Tuesday night. Their aim was to survive and that is exactly what they did.