There will be a Game 6 Thursday. The Canadiens made sure of that. Rene Bourque’s hat trick led Montreal to a 7-4 win over the Rangers to take Game 5 at a raucous Bell Centre. They avoided elimination by chasing Henrik Lundqvist in the second period. He allowed four goals on 19 shots before Cam Talbot replaced him.
Unlike the first four games, Montreal never trailed. Far more desperate, they overwhelmed the Rangers jumping out to a 4-1 lead. A major difference was the Canadiens finally played with the lead. Alex Galchenyuk scored a power play goal less than two minutes in to establish momentum. Since returning, he’s scored twice including the overtime winner in Game 3. He also recorded an assist on Tomas Plekanec’s goal that restored the lead.
One of the themes was the return of Derek Stepan. After sitting out Game 4 with a broken jaw, the center returned wearing a full cage to protect the injury. Fittingly, he was the best player for the Rangers scoring twice. His first of the game was a weak one that fooled Dustin Tokarski. He beat him to the short side evening it up. But less than two minutes later, Plekanec took a Brian Gionta feed and beat Lundqvist.
Trailing 2-1, the Rangers had 33 seconds left on a power play. After failing to capitalize, they were given another chance with Andrei Markov going off for interference. In what amounted to a turning point, they failed to connect. For some reason, they were too hesitant and didn’t get enough shots on a shaky Tokarski. The power play is again a sore spot. They went 1-for-7 and it really hurt them throughout.
What followed was total chaos. Following a big penalty kill, Max Pacioretty increased the Canadiens’ lead to 3-1 when his shot went right thru the wickets of Lundqvist. For sure, a bad one to allow. Brendan Gallagher made the play by taking a Markov feed and using his speed to set up Pacioretty. With the crowd in a frenzy, Bourque scored the first of his three 3:10 later from Lars Eller and Thomas Vanek- giving the Habs a 4-1 lead with 13:06 left in the second.
Following a stoppage, Alain Vigneault pulled Lundqvist for Talbot. The move sparked the Rangers. Despite only getting six shots on Tokarski during the second, they scored on half of them. In fact, Rick Nash connected on the Rangers’ first shot of the period for his third of the series. Taking a Ryan McDonagh feed, he circled around the net and centered a puck that went off a Montreal defenseman past Tokarski cutting the deficit to 4-2 with 10:12 remaining.
As if on cue, the Rangers scored three straight goals in a 4:24 span to tie the game. Stepan got his second when he got to a loose puck in front and scored into an open side cutting it to 4-3 with 7:54 left. The play was created by Chris Kreider, who continued to battle in front with Nash forcing Tokarski to fumble a loose puck to Stepan, who buried it. Within one, they finally got a call. The Habs have been embellishing all series. This time, Plekanec got caught. Pretending he was high sticked, he lifted his head. Instead, he was called for unsportsmanlike diving handing the Rangers a power play. On it, McDonagh caught Tokarski out of the net and centered for a Kreider redirect which tied the game with 5:48 left.
But before they could finally breathe easily, Bourque got his second off a well executed 3-on-2 rush. After the Rangers came close at one end, Eller passed for Dale Weise, who found an isolated Bourque for a laser stick side on Talbot that put the Canadiens back in front 5-4 less than a minute later. It was a killer. The Rangers had worked so hard to get back in the game. But lax defensive coverage was a problem and they simply didn’t get back. Back in front, P.K. Subban embellished to draw a phantom trip on Benoit Pouliot. As NBC’s Ed Olczyk contested, the replay showed Pouliot never tripped Subban, who went down. Montreal’s penchant for embellishing is embarrassing. It’s disrespectful and shouldn’t be part of the game.
”It was a different game than what we’ve had so far in this series,” Vigneault said.
Montreal coach Michel Therrien opted to trap in the third. It worked. Unable to get through the neutral zone, the Rangers were sloppy and turned over the puck repeatedly. Eventually, their poor puck management resulted in Bourque’s hat trick. Markov stepped up at his own blueline sending Weise the other way. He made a perfect pass for a wide open Bourque, who went top shelf on Talbot on a mini-break increasing the Habs’ lead to 6-4 with 13:27 remaining.
There was plenty of time for the Rangers to get back in it. Josh Gorges sent Nash into Tokarski leading to an interference minor. A minute and a half into the power play, Francis Bouillon went off for holding to give the Blueshirts an abbreviated 5-on-3. All they mustered was one shot with Tokarski not allowing a rebound on a tough McDonagh low shot through a Kreider screen. On the remaining 5-on-4, Tokarski didn’t allow any rebounds.
A foolish play by John Moore ended the power play with five seconds left. He delivered a cheap blindside hit on Weise sending his helmet flying. Fortunately, he was okay. That didn’t stop the refs from actually making the appropriate call. Moore was sent off for a slashing major. I’m not sure how it was ruled that. It was clear interference. The hit he delivered was dangerous and made contact with Weise’s head. A no no. There’s a pretty good chance Moore will be suspended for the remainder of the series. That would mean ex-Hab Raphael Diaz is in. We’ll see if he’s up to the challenge.
The Rangers were aggressive on the major. They took chances shorthanded and eventually drew an Eller hold. It didn’t matter. Despite getting looks during a 4-on-4, they just didn’t get enough shots through. Their lack of killer instinct could prove costly. Now, they’re facing a lot of pressure to finish off the Habs at MSG. If they don’t, I might not even want to look at a potential Game 7. That would be a worst case scenario. As they already know, you can rally from a 3-1 deficit. The Habs are seeking to become the first team in a Conference Final to do so since the ’99-00 Devils.
An Eller hit from behind on Mats Zuccarello gave them another man-advantage. It only resulted in a desperate Vigneault putting Talbot on the bench for a useless 6-on-4. As only they can do, the Rangers won the faceoff and then watched as David Desharnais scored into an empty net to seal it with 4:17 left. Pacioretty got to a loose puck and pushed it ahead for Desharnais for the easy finish.
The only other question from tonight is whether Vigneault made the right call for the third. Down a goal, he could’ve gone back to Lundqvist. Instead, he stuck with Talbot, who was beaten again by Bourque for a back breaker. Granted. The team defense stunk. But maybe the coach erred not going back to Hank. If he keeps the deficit at one goal, I like our chances. Tokarski leaked out rebounds. He did improve in the third stopping all 11. It’s a wonder what will happen in two days.
Right now, the Rangers know they must win Thursday. If not, enter at your own risk. All the embellishment aside and questionable calls, they better suck it up. You don’t get too many opportunities to compete for a Stanley Cup. At what will be a revved up MSG, they better take their chance while they have it.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Derek Stepan, NYR (2 goals-4th, 5th, +1 in 29 shifts-19:43-inspirational return didn’t rub off)
2nd Star-Dale Weise, MTL (2 assists, 4 hits, +2 in 21 shifts-11:21-feisty performance for Habs’ enforcer)
1st Star-Rene Bourque, MTL (hat trick-6th, 7th, 8th, +3 in 20 shifts-12:21-as clutch as it gets)