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Afternoon games have not been kind to the Habs this season.  That trend
continued on Saturday in the opener of the Eastern Conference Final as the
Canadiens suffered their worst loss of this 2014 postseason by far, falling 7-2
to the New York Rangers.  The Rangers have taken away Montreal’s home ice
advantage, much like the Habs did in the first two rounds.

Not surprisingly, there wasn’t anywhere near the level of intensity that
there was at the end of the Boston series to start the game.  It felt more
like a game in the middle of the regular season more than one in the middle of
the playoffs.  The game didn’t get off to the best of starts for the
Canadiens as before the game hit the five minute mark, the Rangers were on the
board as Martin St. Louis was left open in the slot to beat Carey Price. 
New York’s next shot also eluded Price as Mats Zuccarello crashed the net and
flipped one in.  The Habs replied with a pair of their own.  The
problem is, their pair were hooking penalties from Rene Bourque and not goals,
sending the teams to the room with the Rangers having a two goal lead.

Montreal was much better at the start of the second period as their speed
started to pay dividends.  However, Henrik Lundqvist was turning aside
chance after chance.  Interestingly enough, it was one of their weaker
opportunities that eluded the Swedish netminder as a weak Bourque shot bounced
off of Ryan McDonagh’s stick into the net.  The Canadiens had a powerplay
opportunity shortly after that but were unable to capitalize.  Nonetheless,
they had played well enough to carry over some momentum into the third…until
the final minute.

With 1:01 left, Chris Kreider, whose speed gave the Habs fits all game, got
in behind the defence (yet again) and wristed one past Price’s blocker.  On
the next shift, P.K. Subban went for the fancy dump-in instead of a regular,
more efficient one.  The attempt was blocked, sending the Rangers back the
other way.  Zuccarello centred it to Brad Richards from behind the net;
Price was cheating the other way and Richards banked it off of his blocker and
in to give the Rangers a commanding 4-1 lead after 40 minutes.

There were two ways that the Habs could come out of the second intermission. 
They could have kept pressing, or they could have folded.  They chose the
latter which gave Peter Budaj, who replaced Price, a rather rough introduction
to the game.  Subban took a penalty, Ryan McDonagh scored on the powerplay. 
Max Pacioretty then got a roughing call.  While shorthanded, Brandon Prust
threw a bit of a tantrum on Kreider and the referees after the first call was
made.  At the end of the day, he wound up with 14 minutes in penalties and
the Canadiens were down two skaters.  This time, Derek Stepan scored. 
On the following 5-on-4, Rick Nash picked up his first of the postseason. 
All of this happened before the period had hit the five minute mark.

The rest of the game saw very little in the way of excitement or effort from
either side as both teams were content to play out the game.  Montreal did
get a nice boost late in the game as Lars Eller scored a shorthanded tally, a
nice response to the struggles that the penalty kill had to start the frame. 
They also had a pair of late powerplays but were unable to get it any closer
despite a few good chances.

It wasn’t a perfect win for the Rangers, however, as Derick Brassard left the
game on his second shift of the game following a hit by Mike Weaver and did not
return.  New York coach Alain Vigneault noted after the game that he is
day-to-day but wouldn’t provide any further information.  Montreal may not
have escaped this one without injury either.  In the second period, Kreider
drove the net and was unable to stop before plowing into Price.  The Habs’
goalie was favouring his right leg.  He stayed in the game and finished the
second but was on the bench for the third. 

The save percentages weren’t pretty for Montreal’s goalies.  Price made
16 saves on 20 shots (a .800 SV%) in taking the loss while Budaj allowed three
goals on eight shots (a .625 SV%) although none of the goals were his fault as
the penalty kill had folded.  Lundqvist was sharp at the other end, turning
aside 20 of 22 shots.  Special teams, if you haven’t guessed it already,
were big in this game as New York went 3/7 with the man advantage while the Habs
were 0/3.

HW 3 Stars of the Afternoon

1st Star: Lars Eller – Not many Habs had what you could call a
good game but Eller was one of them, if not the only one.  He made a good
play to get the ball rolling on Bourque’s goal while his shorthanded tally was a
fantastic shot.  He also had as many takeaways as the rest of Montreal’s
forwards combined.

Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1 rating, 3 shots, 2 takeaways, 16:30 TOI

2nd Star: Mike Weaver – It was a quiet game for Weaver and
given how poorly the Canadiens were defensively, a quiet game stands out as a
positive among the rest.  He was his usual self, trying to block shots and
playing physically.  He also had a plus rating and in a game like this
where there weren’t many positives, that has to count for something.

Stats: 0 points, +1 rating, 4 hits, 3 blocks, 19:38 TOI

3rd Star: Rene Bourque – Yes, he had a hat trick of bad
penalties (one of which wasn’t much of a hook at all) but he was also one of the
few forwards who played with some hustle, particularly in the third period. 
Bourque also gave the Habs a huge boost with his goal in the second period and
tied for a game high in hits.

Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 6 PIMS, 3 shots, 4 hits, 11:42 TOI

Honourable Mention: Max Pacioretty – He was hesitant to drive
the net but he picked up a few scoring chances and also was tied for the game
lead in hits.  It wasn’t his best game by any stretch but a lot of others
had worse outings.

Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 2 PIMS, 3 shots (6 attempts), 4 hits,
20:22 TOI

Stat of the Afternoon: 15:00 – The TOI for captain Brian Gionta. 
This was his lowest amount of ice time in the postseason and his lowest since
March 25th against Buffalo.