PITTSBURGH -- Rookie center Kevin Hayes was considered an X-factor for the New York Rangers entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs because of his ability to create offense with his size and skill in a third-line role.
For three games, Hayes looked overwhelmed. He didn't on Wednesday in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, scoring the winner 3:14 into overtime in Game 4 to give New York a 2-1 victory and a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.
The Rangers can eliminate the Penguins in Game 5 Friday at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, ROOT, MSG).
"This was his best game of this series," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "We need him to play the way he's played for us throughout the year. Obviously this is playoff hockey and a bigger stage and he's learning how to deal with it with the help of his teammates. Tonight he scored a big goal and I'm hoping that helps his confidence."
Hayes scored by popping the puck into the net from the left post after he got it from left wing Carl Hagelin, who slid it across the crease and underneath Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from the right side.
Hayes had three shots on goal, five total shot attempts and was credited with three hits. He had six shots on goal after seven shot attempts in the first three games of the series combined.
"It builds you up a little bit," said right wing Martin St. Louis, who had the secondary assist on Hayes' goal. "Confidence, mentally, it's a big goal. That carries. I'm really excited for him."
The Rangers are hoping it carries through the rest of the playoffs for Hayes.
He was their leading scorer after the All-Star break with 29 points and finished his rookie season with 45. St. Louis compared playing with him to playing with Vincent Lecavalier, who had 52 goals and 108 points in one season when he was centering St. Louis with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Hayes looked somewhat timid in the first three games. That was not the case in Game 4, when Hayes delivered with an overall strong performance and the biggest goal of his life.
The Rangers needed both. They need Hayes to be an X-factor.
"It's good for him to get his first Stanley Cup Playoff goal," Hagelin said. "He needs that. It's good for his confidence and hopefully he can just keep scoring."