NEW YORK -- Derick Brassard knew exactly where to put the puck in his return to the lineup on Sunday night: in the back of the net.
Brassard, who came in having played just 35 seconds in the Eastern Conference finals due to an upper-body injury, scored a second-period breakaway goal in the New York Rangers' 3-2 overtime victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden.
“The pressure is on them,” Brassard said after helping the Rangers secure a 3-1 stranglehold of the series.
Brassard took just two shifts in Game 1, then missed Games 2 and 3. Going into Game 4, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said in French, “We expect Derick Brassard to play, and we know exactly where he’s injured. Hockey is a small world.”
But on Sunday night, Brassard ended up hurting the Habs where it hurts the most: on the scoreboard.
The 26-year-old center took a stretch pass from Dan Girardi, moved in all alone and beat Montreal goaltender Dustin Tokarski with a booming slap shot from between the circles 19:04 into the middle frame, giving New York a 2-1 lead.
“No, not really,” Brassard replied when asked if he thought the Canadiens were targeting him specifically. “It’s the playoffs. I expect to get hit. It doesn’t really matter what [Michel] said. It’s the playoffs. It’s always really intense and I need to expect [that I’m going to] get hit.”
Brassard described his goal in detail.
“I just kinda trusted my shot,” he said. “I kinda hesitated for two seconds, because [Dustin was] coming out pretty high in his crease. So I just kinda hesitated and finally just decided to trust my shot, and I just went shortside.”
In 14:37 of ice time, Brassard won 18 of 24 faceoffs (75 percent). He has five points in his past five playoff games (four goals, one assist), and is tied for third on the team in postseason goals (five).
Going into the playoffs, who would’ve expected Brassard’s line -- featuring wingers Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot -- to be so potent? Doesn’t matter. They have been, and now the Rangers are just one game away from a trip to the Stanley Cup finals.
“I felt great,” Brassard said. “I think my last game was like a week ago, so it took me a couple of shifts to get into it. But it’s pretty easy when you play here and the atmosphere is great, so I was just happy to get back out there with my teammates.”