The Habs started off their elimination game on Saturday night with a bang but fell apart after the opening 20 minutes to fall 3-1 to the Rangers, ending the series in six games.
Claude Julien made several lineup changes for this one and not all of them were by choice. Andrew Shaw, whose ice time had been lower than usual the last few games, was unable to play because of an upper body injury and instead of promoting one of the fourth liners into that spot, Brian Flynn was the surprise replacement.
Also up front, Torrey Mitchell was scratched which also came as somewhat of a surprise. Instead of Andreas Martinsen drawing back in, Julien decided to give Michael McCarron his postseason debut. The tweaking didn’t change there either as Nathan Beaulieu was up in the press box while Brandon Davidson returned to play alongside Jordie Benn on the third pairing.
Given the circumstances, it was expected that the Habs would come out aggressively and that’s exactly what they did. They held the Rangers to just one shot in the early going and were committed to the cycle game, something they haven’t done much of in the series.
That change in strategy paid early dividends as some strong work from Alexander Radulov resulted in a centering pass to Alexei Emelin who sniped a perfectly placed shot past Henrik Lundqvist to open the scoring. It was Emelin’s first career NHL playoff goal in his 29th game.
Max Pacioretty, who has been under fire from many so far this postseason, also got involved in the tougher areas to start the game. He also dropped the gloves with Jimmy Vesey, something I don’t think anyone really saw coming.
New York had a couple of late chances but weren’t able to beat Carey Price and the Habs took a 1-0 lead to the dressing rooms on the heels of one of their better periods of the postseason.
Montreal needed to come out with similar intensity for the 2nd. They didn’t. Instead, the Rangers took it to them early on and drew an early holding penalty from Jordie Benn. On that power play, Mats Zuccarello snuck one between Carey Price’s glove and pad to tie up the scoring. They kept pushing after that and it was looking like it could get ugly pretty quickly.
The Canadiens withstood the pressure and started to generate some of their own, culminating in a stretch of over five minutes without a whistle that saw both teams push for the go-ahead goal but nothing came of it.
A few minutes later, Julien made the puzzling decision to put out the fourth line and third defensive pairing for a defensive zone faceoff after a commercial break. That line had some success to that point in the game but it was in the offensive zone, particularly in the cycle game. This gamble didn’t pay off as the Rangers won the draw, had control, and then Zuccarello banked one off Price to give New York the lead.
Shortly after that, Brandon Davidson was high sticked, drawing blood in the process. However, the officials decided against assessing the double minor. On that man advantage, Shea Weber let go a bullet shot from the point that landed in Lundqvist’s glove (it wasn’t really a save) but that was their best chance and the Habs went to the room in the opposite situation that the started the period in.
Knowing that they were 20 minutes away from elimination, it was reasonable to expect that Montreal would come up flying in the 3rd. They didn’t. Instead, legitimate chances were few and far between with the best one being Oscar Lindberg missing on a 2-on-1.
Montreal had a power play near the midway mark of the period but weren’t able to generate a whole lot aside from a Tomas Plekanec chance. In the dying minutes, the Habs still weren’t able to find that extra gear. Plekanec had another good opportunity with under two minutes to go on a rebound on a Brendan Gallagher shot but Lundqvist was able to shut it down. With the goalie pulled, the Canadiens were still stymied by New York’s defence and then Derek Stepan added an empty netter with less than 20 seconds to go to seal the game and the series victory.
Lundqvist made 27 stops in the winning effort while Price turned aside 20 of 22 New York shots. The power play was the difference in this one as the Rangers scored on their lone opportunity – their first of the series – while Montreal was unable to cash in on their three.
HW Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star: Alexander Radulov – Radulov wasn’t the busiest in terms of getting pucks through to the net but his playmaking skills were in full force. He set up the Emelin goal and several other key chances while roaming around like a bull with a hockey stick at times, especially through the first 40 minutes. Now, the talk with him will quickly shift to his pending free agency.
Stats: 1 assist, even rating, 21:11 TOI
2nd Star: Jeff Petry – He had a handful of giveaways but in his defence, Petry was the most aggressive of Montreal’s blueliners and was taking some chances late in the game. He didn’t have a great finish to his season but certainly stepped up his game in this series.
Stats: 0 points, +1 rating, 5 shots, 4 hits, 3 giveaways, 2 blocks, 25:50 TOI
3rd Star: Artturi Lehkonen – Like Radulov, he was neutralized a bit more in the final frame but he was still one of Montreal’s top offensive threats all night. There aren’t going to be many positives in mind given how the series ended but Lehkonen showed that he could step it up on the highest stage and that he could be in line for a strong sophomore campaign.
Stats: 1 assist, even rating, 2 shots, 16:30 TOI
Honourable Mention: Alexei Emelin – In a game where the Habs desperately needed scoring, Emelin was the only one who was actually able to do so. He had a fairly quiet game overall but the goal alone is worthy of the nod here.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 1 shot, 1 hit, 1 block, 16:11 TOI
Stat of the Night (Series): The second period wasn’t pretty for the Habs in this one or the series in general. New York scored twice in the middle stanza in Game Six and outscored Montreal 6-1 in the series in that period. That’s the difference in the series right there.