NEW YORK — During his three seasons at Boston College, Chris Kreider was counted on to score goals.
He was one of the key reasons the Eagles won the NCAA championship in 2010 and 2012. When he left after his junior season, he made a big splash with the Rangers, who selected him in the first round (No. 19 overall) in the 2009 draft.
He was a standout in last year’s postseason for the Blueshirts with five goals and two assists in 18 games, but this year has been more challenging for the Boxford, Mass., native. He spent a good deal of time in the American Hockey League with the Connecticut Whale and dealt with an ankle injury.
But once he came back healthy, he kept working diligently and played a variety of roles. On Thursday, coach John Tortorella rewarded him with a promotion to the top line with right wing Rick Nash and center Derick Brassard for the pivotal Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal.
Kreider scored the winning goal at 7:03 of overtime to give the Rangers a 4-3 victory and keeps them alive for Saturday’s Game 5. The Bruins lead, 3-1, as the series shifts back to Boston.
“It’s so surreal, it’s not something that can really be explained,’’ said Kreider. “It’s just something that has to be felt. It was awesome and I was just excited to give these guys an opportunity to play another game. Right now, we’re in a nothing-to-lose situation so we just take it one game at a time.’’
The goal was Kreider’s first in seven postseason games.
Kreider credited Nash with the outstanding play. Nash, along the right boards, floated the puck through Zdeno Chara’s legs and right onto the stick of Kreider, who was charging the net. Kreider directed it in past goaltender Tuukka Rask and the Madison Square Garden crowd erupted.
“It was an unbelievable pass,’’ said Kreider. “But that’s what Rick does. I just try to get him the puck like I was trying to do most of the night and go to the net because chances are he’s going to find you and put it there. He just laid it on my tape. I probably could’ve closed my eyes and he probably would’ve found my tape and somehow would’ve managed to put it in the back of the net. It was just a great play by Rick.’’
Brassard started by winning a faceoff in his own zone. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh moved it up to Kreider, who dished it to Nash and then charged up the left side of the ice.
Nash gave it back to him and the celebrating began.
“Everyone wants to give the team an opportunity to play another game,’’ said Kreider. “I don’t think that’s different in the room at all. Everyone wants to contribute as much as they can. Everything about that play kind of sums up what we’ve been talking about, worrying about the details, the little things of the game. That’s been pivotal in every single game of this series. Derick wins a big draw and we were able to come out clean. McDonagh moved the puck to me and I was able to get it over to Nash. It was a complete team effort on that goal and obviously a huge effort by Rick.’’
Kreider said there were times during the night when the Rangers felt as if Game 4 was theirs. Other times, the Bruins battled back.
“I think each team had their surges,’’ said Kreider. “I think it was a pretty even battle. Obviously, we’re happy with the outcome. No one has seen the tape yet, so we’ll have to go back and look at what we can improve on going into the next game.’’
Until they turn their attention that way, though, Kreider said he would take a little time to enjoy the outcome.
“It was unbelievable, just pure jubilation,’’ said Kreider. “I’m just happy we have the opportunity to play another game. It’s one game at a time. I think we’ve approached every single game the same way. We obviously just had different execution. It’s all about preparing for the next game.’’
Kreider said he doesn’t ever question what line he is on. He just does the job the coaching staff asks of him.
“Coaches do stuff for a lot of different reasons,’’ he said. “I’ve seen guys move down even though they’re playing well. It’s not something you worry about. You worry about your next shift and let them do their job. They’re the best in the business at what they do.’’