NEW YORK -- Henrik Lundqvist was playing the part of miracle worker, but he needed help as the seconds ticked away in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final and the New York Rangers tried to hold onto a one-goal lead at a very tense Madison Square Garden.
Enter center Derek Stepan, who made the save of the night to preserve a 2-1 victory against the Los Angeles Kings that sent the series back to Staples Center for Game 5 on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
The Kings were pushing furiously for the tying goal throughout the third period and already held a double-digit advantage in shots when defenseman Alec Martinez spun around at the blue line and fired the puck in the direction of Lundqvist. Tanner Pearson got a piece of the shot, but the Rangers' goalie made his 39th save of the game. However, the puck slithered through his legs before sliding to a stop an inch before the goal line.
The whistle never sounded with the puck uncovered and the desperate Kings, seeking to complete the first Stanley Cup Final sweep since 1998, crashed the crease looking to get a stick on the puck and nudge it across the goal line. But Stepan got there first, diving into the crease and pushing the puck off the goal line with one swipe of his hand and then circling back to push it under the sprawled-out Lundqvist with 71 seconds left in regulation. He never closed his hand on the puck, which would have been an infraction of the rules and resulted in a penalty shot for the Kings.
"That's player instincts, player knowing the rules," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Stepan's a real smart player."
Stepan's heroics were eerily similar to a play made by Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman in the first period. This time, Martinez fired a one-timer from the top of the circle and Lundqvist couldn't close the five-hole quick enough. The puck squibbed onto the goal line; Kings forward Jeff Carter poked at it but missed as Stralman got his stick in the way. Stralman then calmly scooped the puck, which was partially over the goal line, under Lundqvist's legs.
"Thank God for soft ice now and then," Vigneault said.