The Montreal Canadiens managed to defeat the New York Rangers Tuesday night, staving off elimination and forcing a game six in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Habs defeated the Rangers 7-4, and the offensive explosion was enough to chase Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers’ star goaltender, from the net. Particularly important in the Canadiens victory was Rene Bourque, who scored a hat trick to keep the Canadiens’ playoff hopes alive and well.
The other goal scorers for Montreal were Alex Galchenyuk, Tomas Plekanec, and Max Pacioretty, who said in an interview that game five was just a taste of things to come, and that the Canadiens were just beginning to hit their stride in this Eastern Conference Final. In a game in which Montreal out-shot New York by only a 28-27 margin, analysts have pointed to Lundqvist as an important factor in the Habs’ victory. Lundqvist had a pedestrian evening, allowing four goals on 19 shots before being pulled by coach Alain Vigneault at 8:58 of the second period. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Cam Talbot, the goaltender who came in to replace Lundqvist, did not fare much better. The Canadiens went on to score three more times before the night was out.
The Canadiens built a three goal lead in the second period, but the Rangers were able to fight back when Rick Nash was credited with a goal after Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges inadvertently deflected a puck past goaltender Dustin Tokarski. This goal opened the floodgates for the Rangers, who quickly got goals from Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider to tie the game up at four goals apiece. The Montreal Canadiens, however, were able to weather the storm. Rene Bourque scored his second goal with approximately five minutes left to play in the second to regain the momentum and help the Habs stave off elimination. Bourque’s third goal of the evening, in the third period, sparked a shower of hats onto the ice and provided an additional cushion which the Rangers never overcame.
The New York Rangers still lead the Eastern Conference Finals by a margin of three games to two, and they will have another chance to end the series Thursday night when the Canadiens visit New York. Tuesday’s win, however, has given Montreal a renewed optimism, which is evident in statements of star players such as Pacioretty and Bourque. Bourque even went so far as to comment on the goaltending situation in this playoff series, saying that he thought Tokarski had been a better goalie than Lundqcist through the first five games of the series.
The Canadiens will surely be encouraged by their goal scoring output. Tuesday was the first time the Habs have scored seven playoff goals in a game since their 7-4 victory over the Hartford Whalers in 1992, and they will be looking to build off of this win in the upcoming games. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault commented, however, that game five was just a strange game, and he seemed confident about his team’s chances of winning game six back in New York. Whatever happens on Thursday, the Montreal Canadiens can at least take encouragement from the fact that they were able to stave off elimination Tuesday night when their backs were against the wall.
By Nicholas Grabe