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It wasn't quite as memorable as exactly five years ago but on Tuesday night, the Habs overcame a slow start to beat the Rangers 3-1 at Madison Square Garden to take over first place in the NHL's Eastern Conference. This is Montreal's fifth straight victory, their longest stretch in nearly two calendar years.
The first period was quite a snoozer. Nine minutes in, the teams combined for a single shot on goal; it took the Canadiens over 16 minutes to register their first shot on Henrik Lundqvist. There was no scoring in the opening frame and for the second straight night, the Habs had a season low in first period shots (this time with only three).
Anton Stralman opened up the scoring in the second on a delayed penalty; his first shot all alone in front was stopped by Carey Price, making his first start since suffering from the flu, but he was able to lift the rebound up and over Price's pads. With just over a minute to go in the period, Max Pacioretty tied it up, firing one home from inside the blueline on a feed from Josh Gorges.
In my past couple of HW Recaps, I have been lamenting the teams' third period struggles to score but as was the case against Carolina on Monday, the Habs were able to make good on their scoring chances in the final stanza. Alex Galchenyuk picked up his second of the season on a terrific cross-crease feed from former Ranger Brandon Prust, a goal that would eventually stand up as the winner. New York had several close chances in the final minutes (including a late powerplay) but were unable to tie it up. Instead, Raphael Diaz sailed a 175 foot wrist shot into a vacant Ranger net just as a Tomas Plekanec penalty was set to expire to seal the win.
Neither goalie was particularly busy in this one as both teams had lower than their season averages in shots on goal. Price made 24 saves in the win while Lundqvist turned aside 15 of 17 shots in the loss. Special teams weren't a big factor as only three penalties were assessed in the game, two to Montreal and one to New York. Neither team could capitalize with the man advantage.
HW 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star: Raphael Diaz - Even before he scored into the empty net to clunch the game, Diaz was having a fine outing. In particular, his defensive zone work was terrific, especially his positioning against some bigger opponents. He also was counted on to log the most minutes for the Habs both in total minutes and shorthanded time which is a rarity for him. This was one of his best games of the year.
Stats: 1 goal, +2 rating, 2 shots, 2 blocks, 21:58 TOI
2nd Star: Alex Galchenyuk - It appears the rookie has found his second wind as in recent games (and tonight), he has been a lot more noticeable with the puck on his stick. He and Lars Eller have found some early chemistry and I was impressed that he sprawled to block a shot in the third period. That's not something he does very often but given the circumstances (late in the 3rd in a one goal game), it was a great time to step up.
Stats: 1 goal (GWG), +1 rating, 1 shot, 1 block, 13:28 TOI
3rd Star: Carey Price - He wasn't tested a whole lot but he made the key saves when needed, particularly when the Habs came out flat for the first half of the game and again late in the 3rd period when New York was starting to get some momentum going. I have to imagine he wasn't 100% either heading into the game which makes his outing even more noteworthy.
Stats: 1 goal allowed on 25 shots (1.00 GAA, .960 SV%)
Honourable Mention: Brandon Prust - I was curious to see if the former Ranger would step up his game and suffice it to say, he did. He was the lone offensive threat early on while being the Habs' lone consistent physical threat on the night. All things considered, he had a strong return to MSG.
Stat of the Night: With Josh Gorges picking up an assist and Diaz scoring, the Habs now have 39 points from their defence corps so far this season, ranking them 1st in the NHL.
- NHL Statsheet