The Rangers held three different leads Sunday night, while their last—even though it was the shortest lived—was the most important. Martin St. Louis' goal 6:04 into the first overtime session gave New York a 3-2 victory, and a 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference Finals series again Montreal.
The Rangers are now 10-3 in the postseason in games in which they've scored first, while they improved to 9-0 when leading after two periods. For the second time all postseason, the Blueshirts hold a two-game edge in a series.
Montreal was able to climb back into Sunday night's game twice. First, a bad decision by Anton Stralman in the neutral zone sprung David Desharnais and Francis Bouillon on a 2-on-1 to knot the score at one. Then, the Rangers seventh penalty of the contest finally cost them, as a P.K. Subban blast got through Henrik Lundqvist to send the game into overtime.
But in the end, St. Louis was able to sneak one over the glove of Dustin Tokarski and under the crossbar for the Game 4 victory. The Canadiens' comeback ultimately fell short, and, the Rangers protected a lead, not only on the scoreboard, but in the series.
Momentum is a tricky thing when it comes to playoff hockey. Day-to-day, it doesn't really exist. The 7-2 thrashing the Rangers handed out in Game 1 was followed by a game in which they were outplayed. (Yes, they won that game, and again, it just goes back to how there's no rhyme of reason to hockey.)
Which is precisely why, when the series shifted back to New York, with the Rangers up 2-0, Montreal rallied in Game 3 to turn it into a series. It was one of the three Rangers' losses all playoffs when New York struck first. The lead was not protected, while the Blueshirts still clung to an edge in the series.
But if you're talking about momentum, or at least feeling the affects of a win in a seven-game series, look no further than Sunday night. Had the Rangers lost, they would have again, for the second straight game (both on their home ice), allowed Montreal to erase a deficit on the scoreboard to ultimately erase a deficit in the series.
Demoralizing? Maybe not. But doubt-inducing? Potentially, sure.
On the flip-side, it wasn't as much a demoralizing loss for Montreal as a reality check. Win three straight—two of which on home ice, where they've yet to beat the Rangers this series, and one in Madison Square Garden—or face elimination.
The Canadiens were an overtime goal Sunday night from completely changing the dynamic of this series. Or if Alex Galchenyuk's wrister in the third had missed Lundqvist's stick, or rotated a bit differently as it hit the crossbar, and again, maybe it's a 2-2 tie heading back to the Bell Centre.
Hockey is a game of bounces, and you need good ones to have any chance at winning a Cup. Meanwhile, the Rangers did what they needed to do when heading home with a 2-0 series lead: they protected it. Now, they have to win one of the next three to give themselves a chance at hockey's grandest prize.