Chris Kreider comes up big in overtime

The Rangers bench looks on after the Boston Bruins scored their first goal of the second period during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Madison Square Garden. (May 23, 2013)

Without the benefit of focus groups, polls or academic studies, the Rangers' level of anxiety -- down three games to none, facing playoff elimination as they squeaked into overtime against the Bruins Thursday night -- should have been dangerously high.

Not so, said Chris Kreider, who has crafted himself into a playoff specialist at 22. "The important thing was our leaders remained really composed,'' he said of the team's locker-room scene as the players awaited the extra period. "It was a positive atmosphere.''

The team had been on the deep, dark road to nowhere before Game 4.

"It's beyond desperation now,'' goalie Henrik Lundqvist said before the puck was dropped. And Kreider, after making a big splash in last year's postseason debut, theoretically could have been discombobulated by months of apparent exile in the minors.

Not so, he said again. That he then conjured a goal 7:03 into overtime was "surreal,'' he said, on what he called an "unbelievable'' pass from Rick Nash. "All I had to do was drive hard to the net and he put the puck on my tape. I could've closed my eyes and it would've been in the net.''

But going into the overtime period, Kreider said, "I was composed. Just tried to follow in everybody's footsteps. They were composed and confident.''

Furthermore, he didn't want to cast his heroics as some sort of proof that he was mishandled during the season.

"Not something I'm worried about or thinking about right now,'' he said. "That's something I don't like to talk about. I think regardless of how people thought the season went for me, I learned a lot. I was surrounded by unbelievable players, unbelievable coaches and staff.''

He scored five goals in 18 playoff games last season, fresh out of Boston College, then spent most of this lockout-shortened season on the team's Connecticut farm club. Forty-eight games in Connecticut, only 21 with the Rangers. Only two NHL goals and one assist during the regular season, a single assist in six previous playoff games.

Among the issues raised this season by the insatiable beast that is Rangers fans, hungering for another run at the Stanley Cup 19 years after the last one, was how coach John Tortorella used -- rather, hardly used -- Kreider.

"I couldn't be happier for Kreids,'' Tortorella said. "You guys have been kicking my ---- all year for the way I handled him. He stepped up and made a big play for us.''

It was only the second game that Kreider was used on the Rangers' second line, and he put in 14 minutes of energetic ice time. All of it was sorely needed to keep the Rangers calm. For now.

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