In a matter of moments Bryce Salvador almost went from hero to goat.
Salvador's turnover in the first period gave Carl Hagelin a great opportunity to tie the game, but the New Jersey Devils defenseman could breathe a sigh of relief when he heard the CLING as the puck rang off the post. Minutes earlier, it was Salvador's shot that deflected off the skate of Anton Stralman and past Henrik Lundqvist to open the scoring as New Jersey evened their series with a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers.
Right from the start, the Devils were playing like they didn't want to go back to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night facing elimination. The Rangers didn't get their first shot on Martin Brodeur until 10:21 of the first period, a problem head coach John Tortorella attributed to a lack of puck possession.
"We have to hold on to some pucks," said Tortorella. "We had opportunities. We had the yips with it. We just gave it back to them, and they just progressed with their forecheck and moment comes their way."
New Jersey captain Zach Parise was quiet during a loss in Game 3. He was also silent afterwards refusing to speak to reporters for fear that he'd say something he'd regret. He entered Game 4 with one point in his last five games. On Monday night, Parise spoke loudly with two goals and an assist in the win.
"Your best players have to be your best players," said Devils head coach Peter DeBoer. "I know it's cliche, but it's critical this time of year. And I knew he would respond. I knew it was a matter of time."
It's now down to a best-of-3 series and as both teams have traded wins through four games, this has the feeling of going the distance. The margins for error are slim and with two world-class goaltenders involved, goals will be at a premium.
"These games are so tight and when you get the opportunities you want to put them in," said Parise. Last game we didn't, I didn't, and tonight they went in. It's a fine line, especially right now, where we are in the season."
"There's no secret to it."
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy