Montreal vented a series worth of frustration in one game on Tuesday. The Canadiens scored a postseason-high seven goals to beat New York 7-4 at Bell Centre and cut the Rangers‘ Eastern Conference Final series lead to 3-2.
"It just felt like games from the Boston and the Tampa series all over again," Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty told the Globe and Mail. "Thatâs when we were playing our best hockey. And this is definitely the best game we’ve had in the series."
Coming off an emotional second-round win against the rival Boston Bruins, Montreal entered this series flat and paid for it with a 7-2, Game 1 loss and the loss of starting goalie Carey Price, who was injured when Rangers forward Chris Kreider crashed into him in Game 1.
Despite a Game 3 win, the Canadiens didn’t look fully recovered from those blows until they got back home for this game. Not even a squandered three-goal lead or the return of New York forward Derek Stepan (two goals) just four days after undergoing surgery to repair a broken jaw could derail Montreal, which got a hat trick from Rene Bourque, goals from five players and plenty of feisty play to stave off elimination.
"Whether it be when our backs were against the wall against Boston or even tonight, this is a gutsy group in here," Pacioretty said. "When we know we’re in desperation mode and we know that we can be eliminated with one bounce of the puck, we really throw everything at them. We did that tonight. Weâve got to find a way to do that next game."
PLAY OF THE DAY
Gallagher’s degree of difficulty: It’s hard enough to put a pass on the tape in the NHL. It’s harder with a backhand pass, but how about a no-look backhand pass while you’re falling down? That’s what Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher did to set up the third Canadiens goal. He slipped a pass across the slot, past two Rangers and onto Max Pacioretty’s stick for a point blank look at Henrik Lundqvist.
Bourque answers the bell: Montreal had just blown a 4-1, second-period lead in a 4:24 span and the Rangers were pressing for the go-ahead goal before a stunned and silent Bell Centre.But 58 seconds later, Rene Bourque took a feed from Dale Weise, sidestepped a defender and rang one off the post and in to restore the Montreal lead for good.
1. F Rene Bourque, Montreal: The final two goals of Bourque’s first playoff hat trick restored a comfortable lead after Montreal was threatening an epic, Game 5 collapse.
2. F Chris Kreider, New York: Kreider was sensational on Tuesday, scoring the game-tying goal that rallied New York from a 4-1 deficit and adding three assists. This Rangers rookie is going to be a good one.
3. F Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal: Speaking of impressive youngsters, Galchenyuk scored Montreal’s first goal on a tip-in and made a nice play in the neutral zone to set up Montreal’s second goal in just his fourth game of the postseason.
Key stat: Rene Bourque netted the first hat trick by a Canadiens player in a conference final since Guy Lafleur on May 1, 1975 against the Buffalo Sabres. Montreal had not scored seven goals in a playoff game since defeating the Hartford Whalers 7-4 on April 27, 1992.
Key player: G Henrik Lundqvist, New York. Lundqvist had been brilliant in this series but the Candiens chased him from the game after he allowed four goals on 19 shots — including a pair of softies.
What we learned: However long this series goes, New York will play it without sixth defenseman John Moore, who hammered Habs forward Dale Weise with a vicious elbow to the head in the neutral zone with 9:19 remaining — a play that will no doubt earn him a suspension. Moore will have a hearing Wednesday with the NHL Department of Player Safety for an illegal check to the head. Before the game, coach Alain Vigneault talked of playing disciplined hockey in what would be an emotion-charged building where the Canadiens were facing elimination. Then Chris Kreider took a tripping penalty 22 seconds into the game and the Canadiens scored on the power play to get a wild and wacky night off and rolling. Montreal scored eight goals in the first four games of the series. They nearly matched that on Tuesday, with all four lines chipping in. The Canadiens were actually the less disciplined team with 37 penalty minutes that gave New York seven power plays, but the Habs would not be denied. Montreal has rallied to win a Stanley Cup Playoff series twice after falling behind 3-1, but never in the conference final. The Habs last did it in 2010 in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Washington Capitals. The Rangers have not won a playoff series in fewer than seven games since 2008 (five straight). They’ll be playing with fire if they fail to close out Montreal in Game 6 at Madison Square Garden, but fire is surely what we will see in New York after Rangers forward Derek Dorsett head-butted Canadiens defenseman Mike Weaver with 34 seconds left. "That’s the type of player he is, a guy who runs around with his head cut off," Weaver said. "It’s not needed. He’s trying to get something going for the next game."
Next game: Thursday at New York, 8 p.m., EST
Chicago won’t just be fighting for survival when it faces the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final on Wednesday at United Center. It will be fighting for dynasty rights. These two teams have won three of the past four Stanley Cups. If Chicago can somehow rally from its 3-1 deficit and oust the Kings, it will have been to three Stanley Cup finals in five years, while L.A. will have only made one. That would clearly make the Hawks the team of this era — especially if they were to win a third Cup. But if L.A. wins this series and the Cup, we just might have the makings of a high-powered rivalry that will be contested for years to come.