The Montreal Canadiens are currently in the midst of preparations for game five of their playoff series against the New York Rangers, a game which could see Montreal sent packing and the Rangers through to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Rangers, who are on the brink of their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance in the past 20 years, lead the Eastern Conference Final three games to one, thanks to an overtime goal by Martin St.Louis in Sunday’s game. The Rangers have been particularly dominant in a number of areas so far this series, with hockey analysts pointing out the Ranger’s superb penalty killing and goaltending as particularly important reasons as to why the Canadiens face elimination.
Through the first four games of the Eastern Conference Final, Montreal has scored only one powerplay goal in 17 opportunities, which translates into a success rate of less than six percent. This statistic is even more significant when it is realized that the only powerplay goal scored by the Canadiens so far was in last Sunday’s game, a game in which the Rangers spent over 20 percent of the game a man short. This should not be attributed entirely to Montreal, as the Rangers have killed off 37 of their last 39 penalties (roughly 95 percent), but the Canadiens will likely need to find a way to score with the man advantage if they hope to claw their way back from this enormous deficit.
The Rangers are equally impressive when it comes to goaltending, as Lundqvist is sporting a .931 save percentage, and a sub 2.00 goals against average, through this year’s playoffs. These numbers mean that, while Dustin Tokarski has won praise for his play in lieu of the injured Price, the Rangers have had a significant advantage between the pipes. This advantage, however, may be on the brink of disappearing, as the Montreal Canadiens welcomed Carey Price back onto the ice as they prepared for Game five. Price appeared on the ice Tuesday in full pads, and stopped a few shots from trainers while seeming to test his ability to move laterally, reportedly evaluating a lower body injury. Price, who was injured in the first game of this series, has been spotted sporting a brace on his right leg, but his appearance in the lead up to this elimination game has raised questions about his availability for game five.
The Rangers are six and three on the road so far this post-season, and Canadiens forward Tomas Plekanec stressed the importance of taking this series one game at a time, but the Montreal is undoubtedly worried by the deficit it has accumulated over the first four games. However, this is not to say that the Canadiens will succumb to panic, as many of them have been in this position before. In 2010 Montreal came back from a three to one series deficit against the Washington Capitals en route to the Eastern Conference Finals, and Habs captain Brian Gionta has doggedly maintained that the Canadiens are still very capable of winning this series. Whether or not the Montreal Canadiens will be able to defeat the New York Rangers remains to be seen, but optimism seems to be running high in Montreal as they prepare for game five.
By Nicholas Grabe