On Tuesday night, the Canadiens were looking to take a stranglehold in their first round series against the Rangers. However, it was New York that played with the sense of urgency that the occasion called for and the Blueshirts came away with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Montreal.
From the opening face-off, the Rangers served notice that they would not surrender easily. In the first few minutes, they peppered Carey Price with four shots, culminating in a Marc Staal rocket that Price turned aside expertly with an an impressive pad save. While New York raged against the dying of the light, the Canadiens intermittently pushed back, highlighted by a diligent effort by Artturi Lekhonen to drive the puck in on the short side of Henrik Lundqvist. But the preponderance of play was controlled by the Rangers.
By the first period’s halfway mark, the Canadiens had seemed to withstand New York’s push and the teams exchanged opportunities. Price mishandled a puck behind the net and was late getting into position, giving Rick Nash (who was dangerous all night) an open side that he failed to convert. Andrew Shaw failed to finish a breakaway on Lundqvist who turned away Shaw’s attempt confidently.
Later in the period, the Rangers shot the puck into the Montreal zone on Andrei Markov’s left side. The puck caromed off the end boards awkwardly and was mishandled by the normally sure-handed Markov. Jesper Fast was strong on the forecheck for the Blueshirts and capitalized on the turnover sliding the puck through the five-hole on Price, who was caught off guard by Markov’s miscue. Fast’s goal gave New York a 1-0 lead and the MSG crowd was all in.
Shortly afterwards, Shaw upended Dan Girardi in the Rangers zone, taking a very bad penalty. The Rangers power play had gone 0-10 this series to that point. In the ensuing power play, Nash broke in on Price and recklessly bowled him over, performing his best Chris Kreider imitation. The puck went in the net on the play but the goal was immediately waved off and Nash was assessed a two-minute minor for goalie interference, thereby nullifying the New York power play.
After Shaw’s penalty expired, the Canadiens went on an abbreviated man advantage, made even shorter by another ill-advised infraction, this time a high-sticking penalty against Staal by Alexander Radulov. When Nash’s penalty expired, New York extended their futility while up a man, aided by a clearing attempt and some proficient stick work in the lanes by Jordie Benn.
In the last 4-5 minutes of period one, the Rangers began to surrender some odd man rushes and partial breakaways. Their penchant for breakdowns cost them late in the period due to some good work in the neutral zone along the boards by Radulov, who found Torrey Mitchell starting a two on one with Shea Weber. After a pretty passing play, Mitchell converted Weber’s pass to tie the game 1-1.
While the shots on goal were 12-9 for the Canadiens after the first, with the exception of the last 4-5 minutes, New York was the better team in period one.
The Canadiens began the second with the man advantage due to a late first period Ranger penalty but they did virtually nothing on the power play. About the 4:30 mark of period two, Benn turned the puck over with an errant pass attempt off the end boards which was intended for Jeff Petry. The puck was retrieved by the Ranger forwards and the Canadiens were hemmed in their own end. A clearing attempt was thwarted by Ryan McDonagh who promptly sent Nash in all alone on Price. Nash tucked the puck through Price’s legs for the go-ahead goal.
Nash’s goal re-energized the MSG crowd and the Rangers dominated for the rest of the period, save for a few shifts and a late Montreal power where there was some token resistance. Aided by a string of turnovers and a persistent failure to slow New York’s forwards down in the neutral zone, the Rangers had a material territorial edge for almost the entire period. At the 12 minute mark, the shots were 7-1 New York and the shots were quite indicative of the play.
At about the 17:30 mark, Derek Stepan was called for a fairly trivial hooking penalty. The Habs were already 0-2 on the power play for the night but did find their game and applied some pressure, highlighted by a quickly released shot by Lekhonen in the slot and a nice save by Lundqvist on a point shot in traffic. But as time expired in the second frame, the Canadiens were very fortunate to be down by only one goal.
In period three, Coach Julien juggled his lines to try and get something going. The Habs did have a little more energy early in the third, highlighted by an Alex Galchenyuk shot on a set-up from Radulov that very nearly trickled in through Lundqvist’s pads. However, turnovers continued to haunt the Canadiens, the first of which was another turnover by the normally reliable Benn when he fanned on a point shot that sent the Rangers the other way on a three on one break that Price and some sloppy passing by New York nullified. Nathan Beaulieu then fulfilled his average of at least one egregious turnover per game by coughing up the puck to Nash in his own end. Nash went in on Price untouched and Price bailed out Beaulieu on the play…again. There were twenty-seven turnovers in the game, the strong majority of which were committed by the Canadiens.
After these turnovers, the teams exchanged chances but could not convert. At one point, the Gallagher line manufactured a mad scramble in New York’s end but the puck somehow stayed out of the net, thanks in part to the unattended stick of Lundqvist (in the crease) that stopped a puck that may have been heading for the open corner. Jimmy Vesey made a beautiful rush the other way and forced Price to make a superlative toe save to keep the deficit to one goal.
The Rangers settled into a tighter checking game from the 10-18 minute marks. During this time, the Habs attempted a number of stretch passes, no doubt hoping to replicate their first period success of creating some odd-man rushes and partial breakaways, but these efforts resulted in errant passes, icings or were well defended by the home team.
Price was pulled with 1:30 left. With approximately 1:10 left and the Canadiens applying some sustained pressure with six attackers, Shea Weber absolutely wired a cannon from the point that clanged the iron so hard it was heard in the Bronx. Unfortunately for Canadiens’ fans, Weber’s shot did not find the net. After a few icing calls, some near misses by the Rangers on the Canadiens empty net and some pressure by the Habs in New York’s end, time expired as the Canadiens could not get the equalizer. New York prevailed on this night 2-1. The series will go back to Montreal tied 2-2.
HW Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star: Carey Price – The Canadiens would never have been in a position to tie the game in the third period without a number of key saves by Price. The Rangers carried the play most of the night from the opening face-off. It was Price that gave the Canadiens a chance to win.
Stats: 30 saves on 32 shots, 2.00 GAA, .938 SV%
2nd Star: Shea Weber – Weber set up Torrey Mitchell for the Canadiens only goal and was solid all night on the back end. Weber also very nearly tied the game with just over a minute left.
Stats: 1 assist, +0 rating, 0 shots, 2 hits, 2 blocks, 25:24 TOI
3rd Star: Torrey Mitchell – Mitchell scored the Canadiens only goal and, along with Steve Ott and Dwight King, gave the Canadiens some much needed energy in a game where they were far less determined than the Rangers.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 points, +1 rating, 3 shots, 10:50 TOI
Honourable Mention: Brendan Gallagher – Although he did not appear on the scoresheet, Gallagher was in Lundqvist’s office every time his line was in the Rangers’ zone. As always, Gallagher was not outworked by the opposition. Many Canadiens players cannot credibly make the same claim on this night.
Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 3 shots, 1 hit, 1 block, 15:50 TOI