NEW YORK - David Krejci had tied the game at 3 at 11:42 of the third period. On the following shift, Derek Stepan snapped a shot on goal. The Bruins desperately needed a save.
It didn’t happen.
Just 39 seconds after Krejci tied the game, Stepan connected with a devastating winner to give the Rangers a 4-3 victory Sunday before 18,200 at Madison Square Garden.
“I wish I could have saved it,’’ said Tim Thomas.
Before the goal, the Bruins had given the Rangers far too easy an entry. Just as Stepan snapped off the shot, Ruslan Fedotenko sliced across the crease and kept Thomas from getting a good look at the release. Stepan aimed his shot high glove just under the crossbar.
Thomas was asked if he saw Stepan’s shot. “No. Not the whole way,’’ he said. “I think it was their guy, maybe Fedotenko, that crossed at the exact perfect time. He was going to release it, then the cross. I felt it hit my shoulder. I might have picked it up when it was 3 feet from my shoulder, right before it hit me.’’
The Bruins always have required airtight goaltending. That is compounded because of the injuries that have hit the team. Nathan Horton, Rich Peverley, Daniel Paille, Andrew Ference, and Tuukka Rask are out.
With no puck-stopping help available, the Bruins need Thomas to be superhuman. Right now, Thomas (13 saves) is good when he’s required to be great.
Of the four pucks that slipped past Thomas, none qualified as out-and-out softies. At 5:05 of the first, Thomas couldn’t get a bead on Anton Stralman’s long-distance shot, which sailed through traffic. Fedotenko was credited with the goal. Seventy seconds later, Carl Hagelin’s short-range fling caromed off Greg Zanon’s stick, off the defenseman’s right leg, and past Thomas, prompting coach Claude Julien to call his timeout.
At 3:14 of the third, after two misplays by Dennis Seidenberg (first pinching up the ice, then getting caught behind the net), Marian Gaborik slipped the puck into the net to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead.
Had Thomas come up with one of his trademark money saves, the outcome might have been different. The Bruins outshot the Rangers by a 33-17 margin and deserved a better fate.
On a first-period dangle, Brad Marchand backhanded a shot that grazed off the post, bounced off the back of Henrik Lundqvist’s right leg, then ticked off the pipe again. In the second, Gregory Campbell whacked a shot off the post. Early in the third, Marchand slipped a backhander through Lundqvist that skimmed just left of the net.
“After our timeout, we took the game over from there, pretty well until the end,’’ Julien said. “I thought we played well. We had a lot of opportunities. We didn’t get the breaks we needed. Lots of posts. When you look back at their goals, certainly the breaks were on their side.’’
During the first-period timeout, Julien didn’t say anything. The players settled themselves and committed to playing a more thorough game. They responded with a Benoit Pouliot goal at 7:57 of the first to make it a 2-1 game. Jordan Caron sprinted down the left wall on the forecheck, which forced Ryan McDonagh to cough up the puck. When Pouliot got the puck, he ripped off a shot that beat Lundqvist.
Caron struck again at 1:40 of the second. After rolling over the boards, Caron stepped in front of Dan Girardi’s clearing pass and hammered a slap shot that might have grazed off Girardi en route to the back of the net, tying the game at 2.
It was the kind of heavy game - hard on the forecheck, strong on the puck, efficient along the walls - the Bruins have been looking for from Caron.
“We needed that,’’ Julien said of the push from Caron, Pouliot, and Chris Kelly. “It gave us a chance to win a hockey game. Besides some tough goals that went in against us, we could have won that game easily.’’
Caron’s strike was the only goal that Lundqvist allowed in the second. But Lundqvist was under assault for most of the period. The Bruins outshot the Rangers by a 10-3 margin in the middle frame. They dominated the puck in the offensive zone. They owned the boards. The Rangers had no offensive heat on Thomas.
“We had a third man high. That really made it easier on us,’’ Caron said. “Our D were pinching a lot. We had the puck in the offensive zone. That was good for us. I think that’s the reason why we had a good forecheck going.’’
It was the perfect period, save for the fact that the Bruins couldn’t put in the go-ahead goal. When they’re leading after 40 minutes, the Bruins are 25-0-0. But in the last 24 games, they’ve only been leading at the start of the third period in four matches.
And that’s why they were talking about moral victories instead of a real one.
“Other than the result, I think we have a lot to be happy about,’’ winger Milan Lucic said. “We played a real good game after we called that timeout. We had everyone going. It was the best effort we’ve had in a long time. We need to keep our heads high and remember the things we did here that gave us the scoring chances, momentum, and the goals. If we play like we did, more so than not, we’re going to end up on the winning side than losing.’’Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.