No it wasn’t perfect. The Rangers scored a goal. But you couldn’t have asked for a better scenario coming out of the emotionally charged environment of Game Two. The Habs picked up at MSG right where they left off at the Bell Centre – by controlling the play, attacking the Rangers zone with purpose and throttling most attempts by New York to create speed and offense through the neutral zone.

Through three games the Habs are the better team. They know it. And so do the Rangers, who appeared demoralized in their own rink. It’s only a 2-1 series lead but it feels like the Habs are up three games to one. Therein lies some danger. They also have to know that New York is very likely about to play its’ best game of the series. And just like that, it could become a best of three.

So the timing is right for a couple of Montreal goal scorers to hit the back of the net – and really make it three games to one.

THE GOOD

  • Alexander Radulov. Best forward in the series. And to think there were some (many?) who felt Radulov was done at the 60-65 game mark of the season. That’s some bounce off the wall. Considering the time and the place, this might have been Radulov’s best game of the year – at both ends of the ice. Oh, and the goal? Instantly the most memorable individual effort by a Hab at playoff time since the glory years of the late 70s.

  • Shea Weber & Andrei Markov. Understandably looked slightly slower at times than in game two but again were dominant in their own zone, clearly frustrating the Rangers. Markov, in particular, must be driving New York forwards crazy with his high level of play. JT Miller, who already tried to slow down Weber at the Bell Centre (how’d that work out?), took aim at Markov behind the net in the second period and levelled him – cleanly. But Mats Zuccarello, who has taken a beating himself, couldn’t control himself after another failed scoring attempt in front of the Montreal net and basically handed the game to the Habs when he cross checked Markov in the face for a double minor. It took longer than two minutes but Weber made him pay for his stupidness. Not surprisingly the Habs leaned especially harder on Weber on the road, using him for nearly half the game (29:04). Markov clocked in at just over 25:00, so he’s played over 58:00 the last two games. A warning sign? Perhaps. But nobody will benefit more from a shorter than expected series.
  • Jeff Petry. Outstanding game. The knock on Petry is if he gets hit hard his game tends to slowly vanish. Tanner Glass rocked him in the first period but he hit back. It’s early but this is the Petry we saw the last time the Habs were in the playoffs, shortly after Marc Bergevin acquired him from Edmonton.
  • Special Teams. While the Habs PK unit remains perfect (10-10), the power play, which had been 0-7 is suddenly at 20% thanks to the two goals. Both were scored after the Rangers took penalties in the offensive zone (in addition to the Zuccarello double minor, Miller was sent off for a face off violation after he (barely) touched the puck with his glove). I don’t think it’s a coincidence the power play finally got going with Alex Galchenyuk replacing Andrew Shaw on the first unit. Not only did Galchenyuk display a great deal of hockey smarts and patience before sending the puck to Weber for his one-timer but he also had a terrific night on the draw, winning 6 of 9 face offs, much better than what we saw from Shaw. Galchenyuk didn’t quite have the same zip to his game as we saw at the Bell Centre but it’s clear what he can do when he has the puck. Better late than never.
  • Tomas Plekanec. So who saw this coming? Aaron Ward did. Anybody else? Led Montreal forwards in ice time (18:53) and he earned it. Once again very strong on the penalty kill but he also helped the second power play unit by winning the offensive zone draw and eventually moving the puck down low to Brendan Gallagher after taking a feed from Petry. Tic-Tac-Toe. And the Habs were on the board and on their way to a series lead.
  • Artturi Lehkonen. Once again flashing a goal scorer’s release and accuracy from the slot after the perfect set up by Gallagher. He was the best player on his line. After the game Henrik Lundqvist talked about the Habs having “skilled players who can make some plays.” He knew about Radulov and Galchenyuk. Not sure he knew how talented Lehkonen is.
  • Carey Price. Kept himself busy through 40 minutes (just 12 shots against him) by handling the puck and making several break out passes. When he was tested he looked unbeatable.
  • Jordie Benn. Again.
  • Steve Ott-Torrey Mitchell-Dwight King. Best night for the 4th line, energized by the presence of Mitchell who played like he never again wants to see the press box during a game. I think it’s fair to say that Mitchell was not expecting to be a healthy scratch to start the playoffs. Obviously handles the puck a lot better than Andreas Martinsen. Had an excellent scoring chance early in the second period when he found himself alone on his off wing only to be stymied by Lundqvist. King used his size effectively and all three guys helped out on the penalty kill. And you’ll rarely get a better of example of the old hockey term “taking a hit to make a play” –

  • Claude Julien. Changed things up for the first game on the road and it worked. Inserting Brandon Davidson for Nikita Nesterov was a no-brainer. Mitchell for Martinsen wasn’t as obvious, considering how well Martinsen played – alongside Ott and King – in their first game together for the Habs at MSG following the trade deadline. As noted, Julien also changed up the look of the power play, trading Shaw for Galchenyuk while also riding the positive momentum of Plekanec. Without any time on the PP or the PK, Shaw’s ice time was limited to just over 10:00 (can’t help but wonder if he’s feeling the effects of the Brendan Smith stick to his face). He also kept Davidson under 10 (9:06) while spotting Nathan Beaulieu well. Yes, he’s leaning on his best players. Which is what you do at this time of year.
  • Max Pacioretty & Phillip Danault. Not as dominant as their line mate but there was a lot to like from both of them. I thought it was Pacioretty’s most consistent effort of the series. His five shots on goal to lead the team takes him to 17 for the post season, which leads the NHL. So you have a 35 goal scorer who is firing blanks while Galchenyuk has just two goals in his last 21 games. I actually see that as a good sign moving forward. They’re due.

THE BAD

  • Rangers goal by Brady Skjei. Nitpicking here but Price lost his shutout because Paul Byron was caught in no-man’s land after the lost defensive zone draw by Plekanec. Skjei’s shot appeared to glance off Byron’s right leg just enough to fool Price.

THE UGLY

  • Alain Vigneault. I don’t blame him but calling out Chris Kreider (“Ordinary” after the two games in Montreal) didn’t work. We’ll see if calling out eight other guys gets the job done.

The bigger issue for Vigneault and the Rangers is their beyond ugly record on home ice. It was lousy enough during the regular season (21-16-4) but it’s been downright embarrassing the last couple of years in the playoffs. Going back to the end of their 2015 season when they were eliminated on home ice by Tampa Bay in the ECF, the Rangers are 0-5 at Madison Square Garden while being outscored 21-4.

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4 Responses

  1. SUMO

    This was recap was eagerly awaited. Just a question and a comment.

    You wrote in one of your previous GBU, there is an explosiveness to Lehkonen’s game which would soon be displayed. You definitely called that one. (I looked up an old 2013 Draft interview from Trevor Timmons on youtube and he described Lehkonen as a “world-class” player). Where do you see the ceiling for him?

    The subtle moves by Marc Bergevin bringing in guys with Stanley Cup rings (Shaw & King) and a seasoned vet like, Ott may have been something the Rangers overlooked for themselves. I looked over their roster and didnt see a cup winner in there. After their disappointing loss in Game 2, the Blueshirts looked demoralized in Game 3. Maybe getting a few vets like Ott and King at the deadline may have helped them last night.

    Kreider’s ineffectiveness may be do to having a ringside seat to the Weber destruction of Miller.

    Reply
    • Mitch Melnick

      Thanks – Lehkonen seems to be slightly ahead of schedule. Great news for the Habs.

      Reply
  2. Rick L

    I was just impressed with the entire team effort … the Habs have been the best team in all three games thus far, IMHO … Artturi Lehkonen is a gem … can’t believe the way some of these kids can shoot the puck nowadays … not sure Weber and Markov can continue to log the TOI they are … certainly appreciate it up to this point, though … good lineup decisions by Claude Julien … much thanks, Mitch …

    Reply
  3. dra58

    At last a coach who is not afraid to make lineup changes after a win. A coach who REALLY DOES stress defense and rewards players efforts. A coach who has won a cup. A coach who REALLY DOES stress possession hockey. GO HABS GO!

    Reply

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