So much for Habs in six.
It was there for the taking. But once again, when presented with several opportunities to put the game away, the Habs couldn’t finish the job. By the time it ended, it looked like the Rangers were just getting started.
- Artturi Lehkonen. The Habs most productive left winger in the series ended up playing on the right side after he opened the scoring with a strong wraparound goal to the far side of Henrik Lundqvist and then helped set up another on the power play. As Chris Nilan pointed out after the first period, Lehkonen took the smart approach on the forecheck that led to his goal – cutting across the front of the net to attack the puck carrier (Marc Staal) instead of taking the long route, as too many forwards do, by chasing him behind the net. We knew he was a smart player. And we saw the potential for offense. What we didn’t know was how he’d handle the 82 game schedule. Well, he actually got stronger and started scoring at an impressive rate. Then we wondered how he’d handle his first exposure to the playoffs. Any more questions about him?
- Brendan Gallagher. Game Two might have been the best game he’s ever played. He started this one in much the same manner. But, like so many of his teammates, he seemed to be zapped of energy by the third period. Incredibly relentless on the puck. His power play goal – one of the very few shots to have beaten Lundqvist – just 24 seconds after the Rangers had tied the game – should have provided enough of a lift for the Habs to take better advantage. Maybe all those slashes – including a nasty poke to the ribs by Mats Zuccarello – took a toll because he wasn’t the same player for the final 35 minutes. He got caught on the wrong side of the ice on Brady Skjei’s game tying (and game changing) goal late in the second period.
- Tomas Plekanec. Reborn in this series. Logged more ice time than any Montreal forward. Strong night in the face off circle – again (62%).
- Andrei Markov. Lost track of the number of dangerous looking New York rushes Markov put an end to via smart positioning and great stick work.
- Andrew Shaw. Competing awfully hard. Robbed from in close by Lundqvist very early after the Rangers’ goaltender blocked a Jeff Petry slapper from the blue line. Spirited scrap with Brendan Smith halfway through the opening period. Bloodied Oscar Lindberg with a heavy open ice hit deep in his own zone. But bottom line through five game – he has yet to hit the scoresheet.
- Shea Weber. Like his D partner, Weber is defending very well. But with so many forwards firing blanks the Habs need more from him at the other end of the ice. Two straight games without a shot on goal.
- Jordie Benn. Big bounce back from Game Four. Difficult to blame him on the game winning goal, as bad as it might have looked.
- Jeff Petry. Teamed mostly with Benn and they had a strong night.
- Dwight King. A lot of fans and media types don’t like what they see but the Habs didn’t get this guy to score goals. He’s winning a lot of board battles and has been part of a perfect PK unit. It might be a little late but considering how dominant Rick Nash has been, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try to get the 6’4″ King out more often to defend against him.
- Phillip Danault. Strange night. Almost invisible for 40 minutes. Then had a great opportunity shorthanded while killing off Gallagher’s slashing penalty just 16 seconds into the third period. (Gallagher is rarely that angry after a call. But I get why he got right into ref Marc Joannette’s face after he was whistled down for slashing Jimmy Vesey’s stick to the ice. He had spent much of the first two periods getting hacked and whacked all over his body with no penalty calls. Slash a hand? Cool. Slash a rib? Cool. Slash a guy’s stick out of his hands – without breaking it – and it’s a penalty. The NHL does need to revisit this. But, late in the game as he skated through the neutral zone, he was slashed again on the hand by J.T. Miller. And he got the call.) So Danault blocks a shot and breaks down the ice with his captain to the right but holds onto the puck to wait out Lundqvist before firing his shot off the goal post. Not quite. Lundqvist got his stick on the shot to direct it off the post. Another huge save. Danault was much more effective as the game moved along.
- Carey Price. Laughable notion that he has yet to “steal a game ” in the series. How many more saves did he need to make in overtime? How about the overtime win in Game Two – remember the save he made on Vesey, before the Habs won it? It might have been a series-saver. The Habs problem is not their goaltender. It’s their inability to beat the other guy. Lundqvist is at .944 or 34 points higher than it was during the regular season. As RDS’s Marc Denis put it on the radio with us prior to the game. Lundqvist’s elevated play has neutralized the Habs’ biggest strength. It’s up to the other guys who are shooting a combined 5%.
- Max Pacioretty. The stage was set for Pacioretty to take a bow. Pacioretty was the Habs best player not to score. It started early when he helped sandwich Ryan McDonagh along the boards, jumped on the loose puck while McDonagh was clearly dazed, had time and space to take it to the net but, alas, couldn’t beat Lundqvist. With the score tied late in the third period there was Pacioretty taking a great feed from Markov, batting it out of the air, staying onside and breaking in alone for what surely was going to be the winning g—. Instead of a dream sequence ending it turned into a nightmare as Pacioretty skated back helplessly to watch a previously blanked Mika Zibanejad score the game winner. Post game the Habs captain was clearly frustrated and referenced (again) the need to drown out “all the noise”. Just score. There is still time.
- Alex Galchenyuk. Yeah he helped set up the opening goal but this was a bad night. Always dangerous with the puck on his stick, especially down low where he was involved in some good chances, but there was no zip to his game. Not nearly involved enough. Bad turnover inside the Rangers’ blue line led to the shorthanded goal by Fast (but it’s not like he handed the puck to Zibanejad – that was a neat bit of hand/eye coordination by the New York centre to bat the puck out of the air). He has three helpers in the series but he too is running out of time to score.
- Alexander Radulov. Seemed more intent on doing physical damage than on the scoresheet. It was his nasty hit up high on McDonagh that left the Rangers’ captain momentarily out of it on all fours while Pacioretty circled the net. But Radulov never could get it going, even after Claude Julien put him alongside Galchenyuk (and Shaw). Look for a bounce back at MSG. If the Habs are going to go down, it ought to be with Galchenyuk-Radulov and Pacioretty on the ice as often as possible as a trio.
- Alexei Emelin. Fairly predictable he would struggle against the swift skating Rangers. It’s always tough to be dropped into the middle of a series after returning from an injury. But especially so when there is no pace to your game to begin with. It was one of those nights when the puck seemed to find him for all the wrong reasons. Forced into an early penalty when beaten to the inside by Pavel Buchnevich. Seemed to wake up Chris Kreider after he took a run at the Rangers’ winger in front of the New York bench. And of course he was on the ice when the game ended, inadvertently directing the puck off Kreider’s stick right to Zibanejad.
- Nathan Beaulieu. The Galchenyuk turnover to Zibanejad started the play that led to the shorthanded goal but the other half took place at the Montreal blue line where Beaulieu was beaten by both Zibanejad and Fast. Continued to struggle in his own end, so much so that he got just one shift in overtime. The depth players for the Habs (3rd defense pair and 4th line) have not come close to matching the depth players on the Rangers.
- Overtime. Complete opposite of what happened in Game Two. Zero offensive thrust by Montreal. It was only a matter of time before the Rangers sent the series back to MSG in the same situation as they were in when the teams last met in the playoffs three years ago – with a chance to eliminate Montreal on home ice – led by their veteran goaltender.
Lundqvist: “We didnt wait for sht to happen. That was my last word going out, lets not wait for something to happen lets go out&take charge”
— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) April 21, 2017