Look at it this way – a desperate Rangers team, unable to win at home and whose core group of forwards had been called out by their coach, dominated the Habs for most of the game yet Montreal came within a late goal post of forcing overtime.
New York took care of business alright. But what has to be most upsetting to Claude Julien, while recognizing that his team was fortunate to still be in the game after 40 minutes, was the Habs literally handed the Rangers the win.
- Torrey Mitchell. Finished off a pretty play into an open net – seemingly the only way they were going to beat Henrik Lundqvist. It gave Montreal exactly what it needed – a late first period goal to quiet the building and enable them to leave the ice even.
- Brendan Gallagher. Did everything but score. Worked hard early and often to get to the net and it almost paid off when his centre banked a pass off his skate in the crease but instead of deflecting into the net it went right to Lundqvist. With the score tied and time running out in the first period, Gallagher drew a slashing penalty from Ryan McDonagh who clearly targeted Gallagher’s twice-broken right hand. It gave the Habs an opportunity to actually take control of the game. But the complete opposite happened.
- Tomas Plekanec. Almost helped give the Habs what would have been a surprising lead in the play described above. Again won some key draws late in the game to give the Habs control as they pressed to tie. Bottom line here is that Plekanec is playing better than he did for most of the season. I suspect you can probably say the same thing about a lot of thirtysomething players in the playoffs right now. Like Rick Nash.
- Andrew Shaw. Had a chance to open to scoring via a clear breakaway but was stymied by Lundqvist’s glove hand. Strong forecheck presence but his ice time was under 11:00 for the second straight game. Other than the night he was benched in Philadelphia by Michel Therrien, and another when he took 22 minutes in penalties, Shaw had not played under 11 minutes in a game all season. Strange timing. “Shaw gets moved up to the big line” said TV play by play man Paul Romanuk early in the third period on Claude Julien’s late second period line changes. Not so fast there Paul.
- Alex Galchenyuk. So he’s gone from 4th line LW to top line C? Perfect feed to Shaw through traffic to set up that early breakaway. Had one of Montreal’s best chances to tie the game in the third period when his heavy shot along the ice almost made its way through Lundqvist’s pads (the Rangers’ goaltender looked behind him). Needs to score but at least he’s getting legit chances.
- Alexander Radulov. No shots on goal but made the play to start the only Montreal goal when he did his best Jaromir Jagr impression and protected the puck in front of his bench while Brady Skjei made several futile attempts to knock him off his skates. After sending a neat backhand pass to Torrey Mitchell, Radulov decided to remain on the ice to watch the rest of the play develop. The Habs were fortunate the play wasn’t whistled dead but since the Rangers also had six skaters on the ice it’s not like the they had an unfair advantage. At some point during Montreal’s horrid second period Julien decided that his team would stand a better chance of scoring with Radulov setting up Galchenyuk (almost worked in the third) and/or Artturi Lehkonen instead of a passive looking captain. On the other hand, Radulov was guilty of over handling the puck a couple of times, especially early in the third when he turned it over at the Rangers blue line to Derek Stepan on a play that eventually resulted in the winning goal. Bottom line on Radulov? Through four games he has six points or twice as many as the Habs next top point getter – Plekanec. And this guy.
- Shea Weber. Hardly dominant but that was a beauty of a play/pass he made to Mitchell on the goal. And he did beat Lundqvist late on a blast off a one-timer inside the blue line, but for the second time in the series, his shot hit the goal post. Perhaps back to back games of 32:00 & 29:00 caught up to him a bit.
- Jeff Petry. I thought he was the Habs’ best defenseman, even though he couldn’t get the puck out of the zone ahead of the winning goal by Nash. It certainly wasn’t all on him.
- Brandon Davidson. There was a lot to like about him. He looks composed for his first exposure to the NHL playoffs. Nearly tied the game midway through the third after a good set up by Lehkonen when his strong shot through a crowd caught Lundqvist up high. There were 68 hits in the game (43 by the Rangers even as they had the puck most of the night) but none better than the one by Davidson on Michael Grabner behind the Montreal net as the Rangers’ speedster went up and over as if somebody like Weber had jumped on the other side of a see-saw.
- Artturi Lehkonen. Habs’ best LW in the game.
- Carey Price. Clearly wasn’t set on the opening goal by Jesper Fast. And whiffed with his stick as Nash was about to move into position, unmolested, to beat him 5-hole for the game winner. But he was rock solid the rest of the way with several key saves (especially on Mats Zuccarello, Nick Holden and Jimmy Vesey) to keep his team within one. Stopping 30 of 32 shots in hostile territory is a good night’s work. Just not quite good enough.
- Andrei Markov. He’s been so steady it was strange to see him struggle as much as he did with the puck. Or maybe not. We pointed out following Game Three that fatigue could kick in after playing 58 minutes the last two games. But his first big mistake had nothing to do with being tired. He simply got too cute behind the net when he decided to play the puck with his skate instead of his stick, sending it directly to Fast who managed to stuff it between Price’s pads before anybody could recover. It was exactly what the Rangers were looking for. Puck management was an issue for the Habs all night even (especially) for Markov who normally excels in that department. Even in the offensive zone, especially late, Markov appeared hesitant.
- Jordie Benn. Rough night. Pulled a Nikita Nesterov and seemed to panic with the puck with nobody around him, sending it off the side of his own net instead of around it, which got his team in deep trouble and led to the winning goal by Nash.
- Power Play. After it helped Montreal win the previous game it might have cost them this one. As mentioned, the Habs were in a good position coming out of the first period. They started the second with the man advantage. But instead of creating momentum the poor power play set the tone for the rest of the period. Just two and a half minutes after McDonagh returned from his penalty he set up Nash for the game winner.
- Max Pacioretty. The main reason Julien moved Radulov alongside Galchenyuk and Lehkonen. In addition to his bad play on the winning goal (both his move along the boards to poke the puck back to Petry, and then at McDonagh at the blue line was the personification of the word soft – something we’re more used to seeing from Galchenyuk in his own end) Pacioretty seemed as out of it in the offensive zone. Twice he was set up with the puck in a position to do some damage but appeared unready to receive the passes. Almost symbolically, the game ended with the puck on his stick behind the goal line. He needs to get himself re-engaged.
Max Pacioretty his in last three playoffs:
2015: 1 G first 5 GP, 4 G final 7 GP
2014: 1 G first 9 GP, 4 G final 8 GP
2013: 0 goals, 4 GP
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) April 19, 2017
- Second Period. Habs looked just like they did in the waning days of the Therrien era. The Rangers are a fast team. But they made almost everybody on the Habs look like Dwight King.
- Rick Nash on Carey Price. We knew this was coming. There are three ways to respond when a big forward runs over your goaltender. #1. Score on the power play. #2. Make him pay a physical (Price). #3. Run over their goaltender. Which is it going to be?
- Nick Kypreos on Pacioretty. While showing how passive Pacioretty was prior to the winning goal, the HNIC studio analyst suggested that it was typical of what happens to Pacioretty when he’s not scoring. Adding, “…it’s plagued him his whole career.” Hyperbole? Yes, Pacioretty does a lot of good things on the ice even when he’s not scoring. But you do hear that kind of talk a lot around the NHL. There’s only one way to silence it.