The Montreal Canadiens, after their three goal victory Tuesday night, face elimination from the Eastern Conference Finals once again when they play the New York Rangers in New York tonight. The Rangers, looking for their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals in 20 years, will look to end the series tonight, as a Canadiens win would force the Rangers to finish the series in Montreal. Both of New York’s first two series in this year’s playoffs have gone the full seven games, and New York is currently looking to become the first team in National Hockey League history to reach the Stanley Cup Finals after going the distance against their first two opponents.
Certain analysts have pointed to the Ranger’s lack of discipline as the main reason why they lost game five to the Canadiens, and this idea has been a recurring theme throughout the series so far. Although the Rangers were somehow able to overcome eight penalties in game four they continued their ill-discipline into game five and it cost them. This sentiment was demonstrated by New York Rangers superstar Brad Richards, who said that the Rangers lost their composure in game five, and that they were never able to fully recover it. Analysts have particularly emphasized Chris Kreider’s penalty early in the game, which led to the first Canadiens’ goal, as an example of what the Rangers must avoid if they hope to close out the series Thursday night.
After a pedestrian outing Tuesday night, in which he allowed four goals on only 19 shots, experts are predicting that Henrik Lundqvist will rebound with a typically impressive performance Thursday night. If this prediction pans out, tonight’s game could turn out to be a defensive struggle between the two teams. Montreal Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges, after an optional practice Wednesday, said that he expected game six to be characterized by tight checking, and said that the Canadiens would have to fight even harder due to the fact that they are still facing elimination. This gritty component of game six will likely be aided by the return of Brandon Prust, who has now finished serving the two game suspension he incurred for his hit on Derek Stepan.
Brad Richards commented that the Rangers wanted to avoid a game seven at all costs as the Habs are a very capable opponent, a sentiment which rings especially true following the drubbing delivered by the Canadiens Tuesday night. That being said, the Rangers must feel confident, as they have managed to fight their way out of many tight situations so far in these playoffs. An example of this can be found in the Rangers’ second round win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, a series in which they fought their way back from a three to one series deficit in order to triumph in game seven.
Both teams have reasons to be confident heading into tonight’s game six of the the Eastern Conference Finals, with the Canadiens hoping to build on the momentum generated by game five while the Rangers hope to recover their winning ways and close out the series. Montreal Canadiens forward Lars Eller, even when faced with the possibility of elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, maintained his optimistic spirit, saying that Montreal could win the game if they stuck to their game plan.
By Nicholas Grabe