East Conferenece Finals – Game #2 – Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers @ Bell Centre – May 19, 2014

It was a quite a two days for the Montreal Canadiens in between games 1 and 2.  They had to deal with the psychology of losing 7-2 in game 1 at home.  That is tough enough on its own, but then they learned that their number one goaltender and probably their most important player Carey Price would be out for the entire series.  Price had injured his knee in the 2nd period in a collision with Chris Kreider.  He wanted to continue playing with a brace on his knee, but the brain trust behind the team decided otherwise.  The Habs’ goaltender was reported to be crushed that he could not go on.  He could not go on.  The man who had brought them this close to the Promised Land.

The entire city was stunned.  Stunned and then feeling like their chance at making it to the Stanley Cup finals had gone down the drain.  Down the drain along with the city’s celebration of the Drive for 25.  It was like all our collective hopes had died and a sadness had washed over Montreal.  From party to funeral.

Then team coach Michel Therrien decided not to go with veteran back-up Peter Budaj, who played the 3rd period in game 1, rather with AHL Hamilton Bulldogs number one man, Dustin Tokarski.  Tokarski had played a couple of games for Montreal after the Olympics when Price came back with a gold medal and an injured left knee.  This was a huge responsibility and opportunity for the young man.

Also, first round draft choice Alex Galchenyuk was back in the line-up.  It would be the young man’s first playoff game this season and in his NHL career.  He would take Michael Bournival’s place on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Thomas Vanek.  Too bad for Bournival as he was skating hard and playing well defensively.  Plekanec must have been thrilled to be surrounded by two offensively talented wingers for a change.  We’ll get back to that later.

Suddenly it was like our hopes were rekindled.  The Canadiens players were interviewed saying that the series was far from over.  It was back on!  The crowd greeted their heroes’ arrival on the ice pregame with a thunderous applause.  Montreal was alive again.  They even gave young Tokarski a rousing ovation when his name was announced as the starting goaltender.  Viva la revolution!

The Habs seemed to feed off all that renewed belief and came out gangbusters.  They showed more jump in the first 5 minutes of the 1st period than they had in the entire 60 of the previous game.  Bleu-blanc-rouge was buzzing around like bees happy it is finally spring and the flowers are blooming.  The David Desharnais-Max Pacioretty-Brendan Gallagher line was dominant.  Their first couple of shifts on the ice they spent it almost entirely in the Rangers’ end.  Pumped 4 shots at Henrik Lundqvist in the first minute of the game.  Forced him to make a couple of big saves to keep his team in the game.

Lundqvist was making the saves, but was having trouble controlling rebounds, though.  Canadiens players on the bench were heard to be saying to one another to shoot low as he was having trouble freezing those shots creating second chances that they were bound to eventually capitalize on.

Under long stretches of pressure anyone is bound to crack.  Even a goaltender as good as Lundqvist.  The Desharnais line had the puck in the Rangers end for almost a minute.  Despite the fact that they had two opportunities to clear they couldn’t.  Pressure like that cause players to make bad decisions.  Lundqvist made one when instead of covering the puck after Mats Zucarrello lost the puck in front of his net he attempted to try a poke check.  The puck popped up and hit Pacioretty then bounced into the net behind the Rangers’ goalie.  An eruption of joy happened at the Bell Centre.  It did not matter that it was a lucky goal.  It mattered none.  The only thing that mattered was that the Habs scored first and had their first lead of the series.  That celebration did not last long.

It lasted only 17 seconds to be precise.  Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, the guy who was a throw-in in the Scott Gomez trade between the two teams, has made the Habs brass and fans regret that decision every moment of this young series.  He has been a tower of strength defensively and in game 1 he became the first Rangers’ defenseman to score 4 points in a playoff game.  They say to be good sometimes you have to be lucky, but the Rangers’ defenseman really does not need the help of luck.  Luck is exactly what he got 17 seconds after the Pacioretty goal.  McDonagh’s shot from the left point hit Habs’ defenseman Josh Gorges’ pants in front of Tokarski and then hit the post to his right.  In another example of bad luck it then trickled over the goal line.  The Bell Centre was like all the air had been let out of its balloon.  Abruptly and quickly all the good feeling creating by scoring the first goal was gone.

The goal cooled the Montreal team off a little and when they did break through for a chance Lundqvist made the required big save.  He made a big one with his left pad on a quick Pacioretty wrist shot from the high slot.

A big part of the playoff success of New York, besides the big time goaltending of King Henrik, is their attention to detail.  They do all the little things well and don’t cut corners.  An example of that is how they created Rick Nash’s goal with 62 seconds left in the 1st period.  Derek Stepan won a faceoff in his own end.  Instead of forcing something d-man Marc Staal chipped the puck out of the zone off the glass.  More good luck happened as the puck skipped away from P.K. Subban and right to Kreider for a 3-on-2 for the Rangers.  Kreider fed a perfectly timed pass across the ice to Nash, who one timed a shot over Tokarski’s left shoulder.  Tokarski did not seem ready for that one-timer by Nash.  He was beaten on the glove side from distance, which shouldn’t happen.  The energy was gone from the building as a result of another goal against late in a period against the home team.  They are killers!

Another killer was the phantom call against Galchenyuk given to him at 7:29 of the 2nd period by Dan O’Halloran.  It took just over 30 seconds for the Rangers to convert.  Stepan one-touched a pass to Martin St. Louis in the high slot and he drilled a perfect shot into the right top corner.  St. Louis has always done well against Montreal and at the Bell Centre.

Game over.  I mean, they did play another period and a half, but by then Lundqvist was making saves on shots he wasn’t even seeing he was so in the zone.  Plus besides the Desharnais line and that was mostly due to the hustle of Gallagher, who was Montreal’s best forward on the night, they couldn’t muster much.  They did direct 41 shots at the Rangers’ goaltender, but the majority came from the outside.  For me, Thomas Vanek has really shown what type of player he is during the playoffs.  A guy with no heart.  He has not played well for most of the playoffs.  Not like a guy who deserves the $8 million a year he is supposedly going to hold out for in the off season anyways.  Big time lack of effort on too many nights.  Vanek will score 2 goals in a game and then disappear for the next 3.  Can see why he drove his coach Lindy Ruff crazy while he played for Buffalo.

The New York Rangers are on a roll.  They have won 3 in a row on the road and the last 5 games.  Hot!  As a unit New York has a stronger defensive corps than Boston.  They are the team that has allowed the fewest goals against in the playoff at just over 2 goals per game.  They know how to shut it down once they get the lead.  When ahead after 2 periods the Rangers have a perfect 7-0 record.  On top of this Lundqvist was in the process of defeating the Bell Centre demons that had affected him over the past couple of seasons.  For a man who had not won in the Bell Centre since the 2009 season he had looked pretty good the last two games.  For sure without Lundqvist Montreal would have won this game.  The Rangers seem to be a team of destiny getting all the calls, bounces and breaks.

After two days off as the series transfers to New York the next game is at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.  Even the most ardent Habs’ fan has to admit this is a must win for the team.  And even then to come back and win the series they have to win 4 out of the next 5 games.  A tall order.

Game Stats:

-On-Ice Officials:  Referees – Dan O’Halloran and Wes McCauley

Linesmen – Derek Amell and Brad Kovachik

-Goals:  1st Period:

6:14:  Montreal – Max Pacioretty unassisted

6:31:  New York – Ryan McDonagh unassisted

18:58:  New York – Rick Nash assisted by Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan

2nd Period:

8:03:  New York – (pp) Martin St. Louis assisted by Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh

-Shots on Goal:  Montreal – 41

New York – 30

-3 Stars:  1)  Ryan McDonagh

2)  Henrik Lundqvist

3)  Derek Stepan

-Attendance:  21,273

-Final Score:  Montreal – 1

New York – 3

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