Alex Galchenyuk's goal 1:12 into overtime lifted the Montreal Canadiens past the Rangers, 3-2, Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final. The overtime winner came after the two teams exchanged goals late in the third period, with New York tying the game in the final minute of regulation.
The Rangers lead the best-of-seven series two games to one, with Game Four set to be played Sunday night at The Garden.
The game-winning goal came on a bad bounce for New York, and quite possibly a season-saving one for Montreal. Tomas Plekanec fired a left-wing shot at Henrik Lundqvist, who made the save and deflected the puck away, but the disc caromed off the body of Galchenyuk who was stationed by the far post. The puck bounced into the net and the Rangers wish to grab a 3-0 series lead dissipated immediately.
"It's tough luck, that's for sure," said Lundqvist, who made 22 saves. "It's obviously extremely disappointing to lose this one. We played really well, but we just have to forget about it, move on, and get ready for the next one."
Rookie goaltender Dustin Tokarski made 35 saves to earn his first NHL playoff victory for Montreal. He was superb keeping his outplayed club in the game in the first period when he stopped 13 of 14 shots, before saving all 13 fired his way in the second period. He was forced to make one save in overtime before Galchenyuk's first goal of the post-season--in just his second game following a knee injury--ended the contest.
"I thought he played really well," said Rangers alternate captain Brad Richards. "We thought he was a good goalie. He doesn't have the experience Carey Price has, but they are putting him in there for a reason and he played a really good game tonight."
Chris Kreider had forced overtime by scoring the tying goal with just 29 seconds to play in the third period. Dan Girardi pinched to play a loose puck on right wing before sending it towards the Canadiens' net. Kreider, stationed in front of Tokarski, deflected the disc which then hit the skate of Montreal defenseman Alexei Emelin and slid into the cage, tying the game 2-2. The Garden exploded as Kreider wildly celebrated his third goal of the playoffs, and the Rangers had renewed life.
Montreal had taken its first lead of the game with 3:02 to play in regulation when another bad bounce cost the Rangers dearly. This time Daniel Briere's wraparound attempt his the leg of a sliding Ryan McDonagh and caromed into Lundqvist's net, mere moments after Lundqvist had made a big-time left-pad stop on a Rene Bourque blast.
"It's part of the game," noted McDonagh. "You get pucks to the net, you throw it, and sometimes it's going to bank in, similar to our tying goal. You throw it towards the net and good things can happen. It was a tough bounce."
That the score was tied 1-1 after two periods of play had to be downright galling on so many levels for the Rangers who not only badly outplayed the visitors in the opening period and for parts of the second, but who had to watch former Blueshirt Brandon Prust get away with an unpenalized late hit at center ice which leveled Derek Stepan and forced New York to play without one of its top players for several minutes.
The play in question involving Prust took place 2:48 into the first period. After Stepan had dished the puck up left wing and began skating through the neutral one, he was blindsided on a high, late hit from his former teammate. Stepan was left sprawled on the ice, eventually retreating to the dressing room with trainer Jim Ramsay, while neither referee penalized Prust.
"Personally, I think it was late...I certainly think the league should look at it," said Stepan, who eventually assisted on Kreider's goal later in the contest. "It was a bad hit."
The hit--and subsequent lack of a penalty called on the play--clearly infuriated the Rangers, and they stepped up their physical play, though that cost them another player just a few shifts later when Daniel Carcillo was assessed a game miscounduct for allegedly pushing a linesman while Derek Dorsett dropped the gloves with Prust at 5:51. Carcillo also originally took a minor penalty for charging Prust before his fight with Dorsett, though New York easily killed that Canadiens power play off.
Stepan returned to the bench during a TV timeout at 8:15, and proceeded to obliterate Emelin into the back boards on a hard, clean check shortly after the nine-minute mark. Rick Nash followed with a thunderous hit on Andrei Markov, and shortly thereafter McDonagh dropped a bomb of his own back in the Rangers end of the ice.
Along with big hits the Rangers controlled the puck nearly the entire first period, outshooting Montreal 14-4, with Tokarski up to the challenge even if he was juggling shots and giving up rebounds in bunches.
The Rangers finally broke through at 15:18 of the first period when Carl Hagelin--in the midst of a super-charged effort all night long--netted his fifth goal of the playoffs. Hagelin stripped Montreal's P.K. Subban of the puck and took off the other way with Martin St. Louis on a 2-on-1. After coming to a complete stop and faking a shot, Hagelin slid the disc to St. Louis who misfired on his shot, giving Montreal's Josh Gorges a chance to deflect the puck with his glove; but Hagelin reached around a fallen Tokarksi to bat the puck into the cage and give the home team a well-earned 1-0 lead.
However their inability to add to their slim advantage caught up to the Rangers in the second period when the Canadiens pulled even at 3:21. Markov buried a one-timer from right wing off a Max Pacorietty cross-ice pass for his first of the playoffs; and from that point on the teams played on largely even terms for the remainder of the second period. New York outshot Montreal 13-9 in the middle twenty, but Tokarski stopped all 13 shots.
Pacorietty was the one Montreal player who came with a Grade A effort right from the first drop of the puck. In fact he recorded three of Montreal's four shots in the first period. In the second he and linemates Brendan Gallagher and David Desharnais began to give the Rangers fits on a fairly regular basis, with Gallgher twice being denied on prime scoring chances by Lundqvist during the period.
Gallagher and McDonagh had a series of one-on-one battles all night long, which crossed over into some real chippy play at times, with the frustrated Gallagher being assessed a pair of minor penalties in the game. Twice McDonagh used his world-class skating ability to catch Gallagher from behind and negate scoring chances, including once in the third period when McDonagh made a highlight-reel defensive play in wiping Gallgher out while nullifying any shot at all.
Still Gallagher led Montreal with four shots on goal Thursday night. Hagelin and St. Louis--who was robbed point-blank on an incredible glove stop by Tokarski with 55.1 seconds to play in the third--each had five shots on goal for the Rangers.
New York once again played without center Derick Brassard, who is out with an unspecified injury and who also missed Game Two of this series.
"It's going to be a tough couple hours, but then you have to let it go," explained Lundqvist, whose team had its five-game playoff winning streak snapped with Thursday's loss. "That's part of playing in the playoffs, short memory, and win or lose you have to move on."