So here we are.
It’s taken three years but Carey Price and the Habs will try again to knock off the New York Rangers in the playoffs. This time, presumably, Price will last the entire series.
Would the Rangers have reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 if Price had remained healthy? The Canadiens didn’t score a goal the night they were eliminated at MSG in Game Six but who really knows? But this much we do know: Carey Price is a Rangers killer. In 22 career starts against New York he’s 15-5-1 with 7 shutouts, a goals against average of 1.82 and a save percentage of .940. Among teams he has faced more than 10 times in his career, it’s the Rangers who bring out the best in him. And all he got a chance to do three years ago was play one healthy period on one day of rest after his team completed a gruelling and unlikely 7 game series win over the heavily favoured Boston Bruins coached by Claude Julien.
With time running out on his current contract and a career defining trade by his GM who moved youth, speed and skill on his blue line for age, leadership and experience, Price will take full advantage of the opportunity to complete some unfinished business.
Here’s where the hockey heads get serious but let’s cut to the chase. The Rangers are faster and can score more goals. They are going to create breakaways. But, they also leave themselves open to a strong counter attack that, in the past, has been mostly taken care of by Henrik Lundqvist. But not against Montreal, especially at the Bell Centre. And we haven’t seen Lundqvist at his best for a prolonged period of time since the 2015-16 regular season (.921 but just .867 in the opening round series loss to the Penguins).
The Habs are hardly an offensive juggernaut. But there were good signs down the stretch – Brendan Gallagher was back to being Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron didn’t slow down, Tomas Plekanec – while still not scoring – played his best hockey of the season, the top line was re-engaged, Nathan Beaulieu was good more often than he wasn’t, Dwight King actually looked like an NHL player, Artturi Lehkonen saved the best part of his rookie season for the end, and Alex Galchenyuk finally put the puck in the net to win game 82 in overtime. (For all the hand wringing about Galchenyuk’s “ineffectiveness” he finished the season as Montreal’s most proficient point getter at 2.72 P/60 – ahead of Max Pacioretty 2.59, Alexander Radulov 2.33 & Byron 2.11. By contrast, the Rangers had nine players over 2.00, led by J.T. Miller at 2.52 & Chris Kreider 2.49.)
Either the Habs win the series or Lundqvist performs the greatest resurrection since, well,…Happy Easter.
See you at Fan Jam.
And just for fun, here’s how we saw the last playoff game between the Habs and Rangers:
THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY EASTERN FINAL (GAME SIX)
MAY 31, 2014
The Rangers played a perfect game. The Habs – not so much.
Was fatigue a factor? It sure looked like it. In his perceptive post game comments Daniel Briere said “We looked like a tired team” but added he didn’t know why. It’s a good question to ask. The Habs disposed of the Tampa Bay Lightning in four straight games. They had plenty of time to rest for the Bruins. It was an intense, Western Conference-like 7 game win over Boston. There was little time to prepare for the Rangers. But New York had an intense, emotion filled, come from behind 7 game win over Pittsburgh before the Eatsren Conference Final began. And the Habs did very little travelling.
Max Pacioretty referred to a “letdown” after the Boston series. Pacioretty and Josh Gorges said the team “panicked” in the third period. Pierre McGuire calls it the “sense of inevitability” that creeps in. Which sounds about right, except that it was just a one goal game. If the Canadiens were indeed “tired” I’d suggest a good chunk of it was mental fatigue. Most of their players had never been this deep in the playoffs. And only Brian Gionta and Briere had ever been to the Stanley Cup Final.
If they didn’t know how deep they were going to have to dig to get there, they do now.
- Dustin Tokarski. Kept them in the game. Sensational. Allowed a total of one goal in the third period of the games he played in (Thanks to our intern Matt Shanahan). We had former Canadiens goaltender Charlie Hodge (six Stanley Cups, two Vezina Trophies) on the air with us this week from his home in B.C. Charlie scouted Tokarski for the Tampa Bay Lightning when Tokarski played Junior hockey in Spokane. He urged then-GM Jay Feaster to draft him because of Tokarski’s “agility and competitiveness”. Tampa Bay finally selected Tokarski in the 5th Round, 122nd overall in the 2008 draft. “The guy you should be congratulating” said Hodge, “is the fellow who traded for him”. The kid gets dropped into the Eastern Conference Final to man Carey Price’s net, perform the way he did and yet there are supposedly knowledgeable hockey watchers who still refer to him as “a career minor leaguer”. Tokarski has seen the last of the American Hockey league. He was the calmest looking Montreal player on the ice.
- Francis Bouillon. Played like he had been there before. With confidence. Mistake-free. Yes he was on the ice when Dominic Moore scored the game’s only goal but if Bouillon was in your cross hairs because of it you need to spend more time watching hockey. Bouillon can still play. And as long as Michel Therrien is coaching I suspect he’ll have a role here.
- Mike Weaver. Led Canadiens in blocked shots and hits. Forced into playing nearly 40 minutes the last two games with Alexei Emelin injured yet it didn’t really hurt the Habs.
- Alex Galchenyuk. Had one of two serious scoring chances against Henrik Lundqvist when he fired a dangerous backhand to the blocker side early in the game. Clearly needs to handle the puck more.
- Derek Stepan and Brandon Prust in the handshake line.
- P.K. Subban. Ran out of miracles. Didn’t hit anybody (Kept waiting for that patented Subban back-into-the opponent body slam on Chris Kreider – or any NYR right winger). Logged a game high 27:04. Overall he took the next step and is ready to lead his team to the promised land. But in this series he was the second best defenseman. Now enough with the hash tag.
- Andrei Markov. Finally looked his age.
- Nathan Beaulieu. Not ready for prime time.
- David Desharnais – Brendan Gallagher – Max Pacioretty. Played really good hockey as a trio since Game 6 of the Bruins series. But were rendered impotent in this one. Gallagher, especially, looked out of sorts. In the second period Desharnais jumped on a rare loose puck deep in Rangers territory then fed it into the slot for Gallagher but the puck jumped over his stick. He looked lost on the game’s only goal. Following a Desharnais turnover the Habs centreman made it to the bench but Gallagher and Pacioretty stayed on. And were caught. Then late in the game while pressing for the equalizer Gallagher had the puck in the slot but passed up an opportunity to shoot, deciding to go weak backhand instead. Maybe this was part of the “panic” Pacioretty and Gorges were referring to.
- Tomas Plekanec & Brian Gionta. Totalled one shot on goal between them. It was clear their play was revived by 20 year old Galchenyuk on the left wing. Gionta normally scores in the playoffs (31 goals in 95 career playoff game prior to this year) but not this time. Just one goal in 17 games. None after scoring in Game One against Tampa Bay. Plekanec also faltered with just one goal and one assist in the six games and -3.
- Lars Eller – Thomas Vanek – Rene Bourque. Vanek quickly replaced Brandon Prust and actually created a couple of scoring chances including the one that will be shown over and over should the Rangers somehow manage to beat LA or Chicago and win the Cup. The fact that Vanek did so little with the puck considering he was not injured was stunning. Nobody expected a repeat of Game 5 but Bourque was held without a shot.
- Daniel Briere – Brandon Prust – Michael Bournival. Badly outplayed by the Rangers 4th line.
- Power Play. It was – by recent Canadiens standards – brutal. Nothing generated in two opportunities in a one goal loss.
- Ryan McDonagh. Of course he made the play to help set up the game winner. 10 points in 6 games. Worst case scenario as the former Hab comes back to haunt them. Now and for at least a decade. Perhaps Pacioretty learned something. If you’re going to be shadowed for two weeks, you might – at 6’2” 217lbs – want to make it a little more difficult for the defender. In the meantime, it’s another case of “What if?” for Montreal fans. Assuming good health the rest of his career McDonagh will join select company. Hall of Fame defensemen traded by the Canadiens in the last 30+ years: Rod Langway and Chris Chelios.