Despite a third period gasp for air, the Montreal Canadiens were out-hustled, out-witted, and out-played tonight by the Rangers and thusly were voted off the Island. Coming back from an early 3-0 deficit to within a goal, the team – and the crowd – sensed blood. Unfortunately, they were really only teasing the fans, and subsequently fell apart like a cheap playing card house.
This was, surely, the worst game of the season for the Canadiens. On this night there were mental mistakes galore. For whatever reason, they could barely string together three passes – let alone hit a tape-to-tape pass all night. They allowed the Rangers to come out of the blocks and control the puck, and therefore the game, and as a result, this one was really lost from the outset.
In particular, Jose Theodore was out to lunch. His first period was so disastrous that he was pulled in favour of Yann Danis at the beginning of the second. Two fo the goals scored on Theodore should have been easily prevented, but instead the Habs went into the first intermission down by three and obviously discouraged.
It was a quick start for New York as Dominic Moore zipped around ANdrei Markov and cut in front of the net, slipping the puck past Theodore on his way. While fault cannot be laid with the Habs goalie on this one, Markov will surely have nightmares.
Later in the period, the Rangers broke in on a three-on-two and, in one of the largest mistakes any team can make, they left Jaromir Jagr wide open. His one-timer was horrible, however it still looped somewhat less than gracefully towards the Montreal net. Unfortunately, Theodore misplayed the puck giving the Rangers a two goal lead.
Very shortly afterwards, Theodore pushed a rebound directly to Marty Rucinsky who had only to slide the puck into the open net to put the Rangers up by three.
The second period saw the Rangers play a solid, defensive game and frequently five New Yorkers clogged the middle of the ice to cut out skating and passing lanes and to force Montreal to shoot the puck in deep. It was a solid strategy, particularly since the Canadiens didn’t seem to have the required energy to maintain a solid attack.
They did have three really good chances, however, but Henrik Lundqvist made two brilliant saves, one on Alex Perezhogin and another on Richard Zednik, both up close and personal with his glove, and then lucked out when Alex Kovalev rang one off the post.
Kovalev did make up for that early in the third when he brilliantly controlled the puck before roofing through the legs of an opponent and over the shoulder of the baffled Lundqvist to give the Canadiens life.
Moments later, on their next shift, Zednik, reunited on the first line with Saku Koivu and Kovalev, took a pass from the captain and fired a low shot between the wickets. As the crowd went ballistic with the same noise and energy level of a playoff game, one could see the Montreal players sensing blood.
For the next few shifts they seemed to menace everytime they got the puck, however it was the Rangers, with a bang-bang play that scored to silence the crowd and temper the Habs enthusiasm.
Michael Ryder could not get position on Steve Rucchin in front of Danis and the Ranger player finished a smart tic-tac-toe play by deflecting the puck behind the Canadiens goalie to push the margin to two goals. It was Danis’ first goal against in the NHL.
Very shortly thereafter, Koivu, after picking up the puck and curling behind his own net, had his ambitious pass picked off by none other than Moore, who roofed it over Danis’ shoulder. Interestingly, Dominic Moore has scored every point he’s ever had in the NHL against the Canadiens.
The Canadiens were obviously deflated and seemingly just went through the motions for the rest of the game. There was little jump and one sensed that they were ready to play out the game and get ready for Monday night’s tilt against these same Rangers in New York.
For any chance at winning, however, the Canadiens need to reduce their mental mistakes and improve on their aggression. Otherwise this losing streak will go to three games.