Desperation often creates frantic play in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but it can also lead to good results, the kind the Montreal Canadiens needed to stay alive in their Eastern Conference Final series against the New York Rangers. Remember all the stingy goaltending and the restraint that kept players out of the penalty boxes? Well, forget that, for this one night produced 11 goals, 20 penalties and a well-earned 7-4 Canadiens victory that assured a sixth game at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.
Rene Bourque became the first Hab to record a hat trick in an elimination game since Maurice "Rocket" Richard in 1945. The Rangers pulled star net minder Henrik Lundqvist after he allowed four goals in the highest scoring game of the 2014 postseason. New York's Chris Kreider scored once and added three assists, and Derek Stepan returned from a broken jaw to score twice -- the first multi-goal game of his playoff career -- in a losing cause. The Rangers have needed seven games to win each of their first two series, and are now another bad game from going the distance again. Montreal goalie Dustin Tokarski played two questionable periods before coming up with a strong third to preserve the win.
Here are some notes from the game:
• The Canadiens opened the scoring less than two minutes into the game as Alex Galchenyuk tipped in a point shot from P.K. Subban. The early goal was an anomaly for Montreal, which had led for only 2:50 of the entire series coming into Game 5. The Rangers, on the other hand, had held the lead for 129:15 over the first four games.
• Remember this save midway through the first period: The Rangers had a two-on-one break as Martin St. Louis charged up the right side of the ice. He fed his linemate Carl Hagelin, who was speeding along his left side toward a gaping net, but Tokarski reached out and clipped the shot with the shaft of his stick. The puck went over the cage, leaving the incredulous Hagelin with his hands on his head. Watch the replay to appreciate the tiny margin for error that Tokarski had in making the save.
• Both goaltenders had been generally strong in this series – Tokarski since subbing in for Carey Price in Game 1. But he and Lundqvist gave up goals they’d like to have back on shots from the high slot and short point from the middle of the ice 100 seconds apart later in the first period. Stepan’s long bomb tied the score – a welcome sight after he'd missed the previous game with a broken jaw – but it was quickly negated by Tomas Plekanec, who put the Habs back in front.
• This is why Alain Vigneault is a good coach: Lundqvist was having his worst game of the playoffs and it was time to replace him after Max Pacioretty and Bourque scored within the first seven minutes of the second period to give the Habs a 4-1 lead. It was not so much a punishment for Lundqvist, but a kick in the pants to the Rangers to tell them that they must play better in front of their goalie. Still, Vigneault didn’t pull Lundqvist right after the fourth goal; he waited until a TV timeout, when the sound system is set to blare music and any lengthy sarcastic serenade for the goaltender would be drowned out by the arena's entertainment. Vigneault then signaled for backup Cam Talbot to enter the game. Talbot had played just 20 minutes during these playoffs, but his arrival – and, more to the point, Lundqvist’s benching – definitely sparked the Rangers, who scored three goals later in the period to tie the score. Rick Nash, Stepan and Kreider all struck within a span of 4:24 to even the score at 4-4.
• The Canadiens have become very adept at acting, hamming it up, or, to use that dreaded hockey word, embellishing. They managed to draw some penalties in the last game by throwing their heads back at strategic times – say, when a New York stick was in the same postal code as a Montreal head. It worked a few times tonight, but the officials did call Plekanec for diving when he tried to draw a penalty in the second. The Rangers used the man advantage well, with Kreider’s equalizer coming after Tokarski wandered from his net to chase down the puck, giving Ryan McDonagh plenty of space to pass it to his teammate for an easy tip. Yes, Lundqvist was the goalie who was pulled, but the Rangers have begun to expose the flaws in the young Montreal goalie’s game: he wanders a lot and he doesn’t cover rebounds very well on low shots
• Bourque closed out the second period and opened the third with goals that put the Canadiens ahead 6-4, both against Talbot. It was notable that Vigneault chose not to put Lundqvist back in to start the final stanza after it appeared that his team had settled itself.
• Just two games after Montreal forward Brandon Prust was suspended for a late high hit on Stepan, Rangers’ defenseman John Moore threw a similar check on Dale Weise that earned him a match penalty at 10:41 of the third and gave the Habs a five-minute power play. Count on the league reviewing the play and likely keeping Moore out for at least Game 6.
• The Canadiens were way too passive during their extended power play after Moore's penalty, allowing two shorthanded shots, producing none of their own, and wasting the man advantage when Lars Eller was called for holding with 1:30 to play on it. Vigneault pulled Talbot to get a six-on-four, but the rally attempt was short-lived as David Desharnais scored into an empty net for the Habs shortly after the next face-off.
• The game marked Lundqvist’s first stinker of the 2014 playoffs. He entered the game leading in goals-against average (1.98) and save percentage (.931). Game 6 will be especially important for Lundqvist, who often plays poorly in Montreal. He did have two strong performances there to open the series, but now that he has this blot on his resume, it’s imperative for him to close things out at home. Yes, this is a veteran goalie, but imagine the raucous Habs fans in his ear if he comes back to Montreal for a seventh game. Granted, the only other time Lundqvist was pulled was in the sixth game against the Flyers in New York’s opening-round series and he responded with strong play in the deciding game a day later.
• Several of the Canadiens, including captain Brian Gionta, have been through this before as their team rallied from a 3-1 series deficit against Washington in 2010. Gionta has been good in elimination games, with 10 points in 11 such contests and a 9-2 record for his teams in New Jersey and Montreal.
• Defenseman Alexei Emelin was unable to go for the Canadiens on Tuesday due to an undisclosed injury that’s believed to be to his knee. He’s averaged 22:21 of ice time per game during the postseason and many of those minutes have been against the opposition’s top forwards. It will be a noticeable loss if he can’t play in Game 6. The Canadiens and Rangers will meet in Game 6 on Thursday in New York at 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN, CBC, RDS).