Henrik Lundqvist wasn't the answer Tuesday night at the Bell Centre. Neither was Cam Talbot. Nor was a spirited second-period three-goal rally by the Rangers. Instead all there was in the end was a 7-4 defeat at the hands of a desperate Montreal Canadiens squad in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final; and now there will be a sixth game in this series Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, with the Rangers now holding a three games to two advantage and still one victory away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.
"We were excited for the oportunity to win a game here to move on, but it didn't happen," explained alternate captain Marc Staal after the game. "We've got to let it go, refocus, and get ready to play a game at home."
Rene Bourque scored three times to lead the Canadiens, who never trailed after scoring less than two minutes into the game on Tuesday. Chris Kreider scored a goal and added three assists to pace the Rangers, while Derek Stepan returned to the lineup wearing a protective shield over his broken jaw and scored a pair of goals.
"It was a strange game," offered Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. "If there was a positive it was the fact that (Stepan) under those conditions was able to play such a strong game--that whole line ( with Kreider and Rick Nash) was good tonight. We need to get the rest of our group to play the same way."
The Rangers got off to the worst start imaginable, righted themselves on Stepan's first goal before giving that goal right back, and then engaged in an incredibly wild second period in which each team scored three times and Lundqvist was removed from the game along the way. When the dust cleared and everyone was allowed to catch their breath, the Rangers were in a 5-4 hole at the second intermission, but unable to gain any traction in the final period of play en-route to the loss.
Kreider, who would go on to establish a personal career playoff high with four points, was called for a tripping penalty just 22 seconds into the game. The Canadiens, who were handed eight power plays and scored on only one in their Game Four defeat, immediately made the Rangers pay on Tuesday, with Alex Galchenyuk deflecting P.K. Subban's shot past Lundqvist at the 1:48 mark of the first period, giving Montreal the all-important first goal.
New York did not record a shot on goal until nearly six minutes had elapsed in the game and the Canadiens already had peppered Lundqvist with six shots. Dustin Tokarski, though, was forced to make a sharp pad save on that shot, a Brad Richards one-timer off a Martin St. Louis feed from behind the net.
Three minutes later Tokarski made a jaw-dropping save, robbing Carl Hagelin by flinging himself across the crease and getting the knob of his stick on Hagelin's shot--again off a St. Louis pass. However Tokarski then surrendered a goal from long range at 10:44, and the game was tied.
Stepan took a pass from Kreider over the blue line, and from straight away snapped a shot that dipped underneath Tokarski's blocker and into the net, quieting the raucous Bell Centre crowd. Less than two minutes later the Canadiens answered back when Tomas Plekanec beat Lundqvist glove side with a long shot from just inside the blue line, restoring Montreal's one-goal lead at 12:24.
Montreal struck twice quickly in the third period to increase its lead to 4-1, while increasing the decibel levels inside the Bell Centre to deafening proportions. Max Pacorietty fired a wrist shot between Lundqvist's pads at 3:44 and Bourque scored his first of the night at 6:34, going short side on a spinning shot to Lundqvist's right.
At the next television timeout Lundqvist was replaced in goal by Talbot. Lundqvist allowed four goals on 18 shots while playing 28 minutes 58 seconds.
"I pulled him because I thought at that time we needed a little momentum shift, I thought it might catch everyone's attention, and it did for a while, but obviously it didn't work out," explained Vigneault.
Whether it was the change of goalies or just an added sense of desperation on their part, the Rangers climbed all the way back to incredibly tie the game, 4-4, by scoring three times in a span of fewer than five minutes. Nash got it all started when his shot towards the net deflected off Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges and into the cage at 9:48. Nash's third goal of the series provided the Rangers with some much-needed life, and Stepan would infuse even more energy into the team two and a half minutes later with his second goal of the game.
Despite playing with a broken jaw, Stepan was unafraid going to the net during a scramble in front of Tokarksi, and hammered a loose puck into thecage at 12:06 for his second goal of the game and fifth of the playoffs. Kreider and Nash assisted on the goal, which was followed at 13:05 by a diving-embellishment penalty called against Plekanec--sending New York to its third power play of the night.
Bulling his way to the net, Kreider tied the game with his fourth goal of the playoffs, and his fourth point of the night, at 14:12. Ryan McDonagh made a nice feed into the crease where Kreider easily beat the out of position Tokarski, and somehow the Rangers had tied the game, 4-4, after seemingly being out of it completely just minutes before.
Just as quickly as they tied it, though, the Rangers gave one right back as Bourque beat Talbot at 15:10 to once again give the Canadiens the lead. Then Bourque completed his hat trick by scoring his eighth of the post-season following a Rangers defensive zone collapse 6:33 into the third period, beating Talbot on a partial break-in over the glove.
"We come back and tie it up, so that fifth one hurt," said Staal. "It was a bad play and it cost us. It was a great momentum swing to get back into the game, but we just couldn't hold it."
David Desharnais put the game away with an empty-net goal with 4:17 remaining in the third period.
Bad blood boiled over throughout the third period with two players receiving game miscoundicts for major match penalties. New York's John Moore received the first of those at 10:41 for his hit on Montreal's Dale Weise in the neutral zone ,and the second was assessed to Bourque for cross-checking Derek Dorsett after the final buzzer.
"The whole game just kind of got out of whack," summarized Richards. "The structure was off a little bit..that's not how we play it, maybe it was just a product of how the game went. It was just one of those games, can't explain it."