NEW YORK — In overtime Thursday night, when Rick Nash and Chris Kreider blitzed through center ice on a two-on-two rush, the Bruins thought they were in good shape.
Zdeno Chara was marking Nash. Dougie Hamilton read that Kreider was going to the net. No trailers were in sight. The Bruins had backchecked efficiently. Hamilton had to stand up Kreider and take his stick away.
“I knew exactly what he was going to do,” Hamilton said.
But the Rangers pulled off a perfectly executed play. Nash slammed on the brakes and snapped the puck in front for Kreider. After gaining inside position on Hamilton, Kreider brushed off the rookie’s check, placed his stick in front, and tipped the puck past Tuukka Rask at 7:03 of OT to give the Rangers a 4-3 win in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden.
Game 5 is Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at TD Garden. The Bruins will take their second swing at eliminating the Rangers and advancing to the Eastern Conference finals.
“I thought that was the best goal of the night for them,” said Rask. “That was really a good goal on that. Shot first taken, really good tip.”
As much as Rask credited the Rangers on the winner, the Bruins made too many mistakes during the sequence. David Krejci lost an offensive-zone faceoff cleanly to Derek Stepan. The Bruins’ first line, which had struggled during even-strength play the entire night, allowed the Rangers to blow out of the zone without resistance.
Because the Rangers whirred up their legs in center ice, Nash and Kreider entered the offensive zone with overwhelming speed. Hamilton should have rubbed out Kreider. But the Boxford, Mass., native had too much momentum for Hamilton to slow down.
“I have to take him away and remove his stick from playing that puck,” Hamilton said. “If I get rid of his stick, the puck goes in the corner and that’s it. That’s the play.”
The package of breakdowns on the winning goal was simply a continuation of the errors the Bruins committed throughout the night. The Bruins had multiple opportunities to dismiss the Rangers from the postseason.
In the second period, after a pair of power-play goals by Nathan Horton and Torey Krug, the Bruins had a 2-0 lead. They had two one-goal advantages in the third.
But the Bruins couldn’t finish the Rangers. The Bruins handed away the leads they had toiled to grab. They managed the puck, which should be considered a precious metal, like it was fool’s gold.
“We gave them a couple gifts, obviously,” Rask said. “At the end of the day, that’s what cost us a lot of energy.”
It was an interstate pileup of mistakes that no goalie could eliminate. Appropriately, a Rask goof, which took place less than a minute after the Bruins grabbed a 2-0 lead, ignited the chain reaction of boo-boos.
Carl Hagelin’s backhander deflected off Johnny Boychuk. As Rask tried to adjust for the deflection, one of his skates caught a rut. Rask tumbled to the ice.
Still, Rask could have saved the play. Had Rask slammed his paddle onto the ice, he could have prevented the puck from crossing the goal line. But Rask, still stunned by his spill, didn’t place his stick in position to stuff the shot. The Rangers made it a 2-1 game. Finally, they had some life.
Another misplay by one of the Bruins’ stars led to the tying goal. At the start of the third period, Rask settled a puck behind the net for Chara. The captain started the breakout by swinging to the right of the net.
But Chara didn’t know that Stepan was lurking until it was too late. By the time Chara realized what was happening, the predatory Stepan had picked his pocket and slipped the tying shot into the net at 1:15 of the third. Neither Rask nor Hamilton had informed Chara that Stepan was in hot pursuit.
“I wasn’t aware he was right behind me,” Chara said. “I’ve got to make sure I take a look.”
The Bruins committed another costly mistake in the third. Tyler Seguin had scored his first goal of the playoffs at 8:06 to give the Bruins a 3-2 lead. But then he rolled over the boards before Shawn Thornton could hit the bench. The Bruins were caught for too many men.
On the penalty kill, the Bruins waved the Rangers into the offensive zone. Daniel Paille was facing the wrong way when Stepan took a pass from Derick Brassard and entered the right corner. As Stepan considered his options, he drew three Bruins his way: Matt Bartkowski, Adam McQuaid, and Gregory Campbell. With the penalty killers sagging too low, Stepan worked the low-high play to spot Brian Boyle open in the slot. The Hingham, Mass., homeboy buried his shot at 10:00 to tie the game at 3-3.
In the first three games, the Rangers showed little fight. In Game 4, they showed their desperation. Now, the pressure is on the Bruins. They do not want to return to Manhattan for Game 6 on Monday.
“We didn’t execute as well as we have been,” coach Claude Julien said. “We have to go back home and play a better game.”
How the Bruins’ lead fell apart:
The Bruins led the Rangers, 2-0, at 7:41 of the second period and were outplaying a desperate team in a do-or-die game. Then, less than a minute later...
When: 8:39 of 2d period. Goal: Carl Hagelin. Mistake: Bruins, 2-1; Hagelin barely got enough on the shot to make it to the net, but Tuukka Rask fell down, and a trickling puck slid past him
When: 1:15 of 3d period. Goal:Derek Stepan; 2-2. Mistake:Carrying the puck around the net, Zdeno Chara was stripped by Stepan, who stuffed it inside the post as a slow-moving Rask fails to cover post
When: 10:00 of 3d period. Goal: Brian Boyle; 3-3. Mistake: A rare Rangers power-play goal because of a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty. Sound familiar?