Goaltending is so important when it comes to hockey. If you have it, you can be successful. If you don’t, then you’re in for a long year. Both Original Sixes Montreal and the Rangers have it in spades. Former Vezina winners Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist squared off in a showdown at The Garden.
The difference was a remarkable Price last second save on J.T. Miller before an electrifying three-on-three overtime concluded. Following Tomas Plekanec’s bullet off the far post, out came Kevin Hayes and Miller two-on-one with under 10 seconds left. Hayes patiently waited before passing across to a wide open Miller, who let go of a quick shot that was headed for the Montreal net. But at the last split second, a diving Price sprawled out to make the huge stop to gasps from the crowd as the buzzer sounded.
That forced a hard fought 2-2 tie into the shootout. A place where great hockey games come to die. The hockey portion was over after 65 minutes. A game which saw the Rangers battle back from one-goal deficits twice now was into a meaningless skill competition. This is how so many three-point games get decided during the 82-game schedule. It seems more and more, five minutes of three-on-three isn’t enough to decide these games. And so, another shootout which isn’t used thankfully to decide any postseason resulted in a Habs 3-2 win with Paul Byron getting the winner in the bottom of the fifth to give Claude Julien his first victory in his second stint with Montreal.
A game which I basically missed due to work and other fun stuff that included a nice drive to my favorite Mexican spot on the North Shore near the Ferry, was back and forth between classic rivals from yesteryear in a time when there only were six teams. Now, you have 30 with team number 31 entering via expansion in Las Vegas. Is there any place they won’t put hockey? God forbid Quebec gets another team.
As I listened to the game on ESPN radio entertained by the great tandem of Kenny Albert and Dave Maloney, I didn’t miss anything. Four goals were scored. Two by each side in the first pair of periods. In the first, Andrew Shaw was able to get to a loose puck and beat Lundqvist on a wrap around just 3:55 in. Less than seven minutes later, Oscar Lindberg drew the Rangers even when he was left unchecked for a sweet finish off a Jesper Fast pass in transition started by the ever improving Brady Skjei. Skjei ranks fourth among all NHL defenseman in even strength assists.
In the second, Shea Weber put the Canadiens back ahead with his 11th power play goal on a one-time blast. Eleven of his 14 goals have come on the man-advantage. Once again, the Blueshirts responded by scoring at even strength. Rick Nash tied it up when he was able to take a Ryan McDonagh feed and get behind the Montreal defense and beat Price for his 17th at 9:26. Jimmy Vesey continued his good run netting a secondary assist.
The game remained tied until overtime. In it, the Rangers missed the net early on. The Habs were more dangerous getting the first two shots on goal. Both of which Lundqvist stopped including a big stop on Max Pacioretty. The Rangers got the final four shots including Miller’s point blank chance which a desperate Price robbed with a second to spare. An unreal save by a great goalie.
Mats Zuccarello was first up in the shootout and went five-hole on Price for a 1-0 lead. Lundqvist then stayed patient and denied Brian Flynn’s forehand deke to keep them up. Mika Zibanejad tried a forehand deke against the grain which Price stuck with to deny him. Alex Radulov then made a great move going to the backhand top shelf on Lundqvist to even it after the second.
Derek Stepan came out and nearly put the Rangers back ahead in the top of the third. But his wrist shot grazed off the crossbar. With a chance to end it, Pacioretty tested Lundqvist high glove but he was waiting for it and made the big save. After Vesey was denied by Price, Alex Galchenyuk almost ended it but had his shot ring off the goalpost. In Round 5, Miller tried to go five-hole but Price easily denied him.
That set the stage for Byron. He went with a similar move as Zuccarello cutting to the middle before opening up Lundqvist and going five-hole to give the Habs a big win that kept them ahead of the Senators for first in the Atlantic. Ottawa won at New Jersey 2-1 to stay within two of Montreal. The Habs have 72 points with 22 games remaining while the Sens have 70 with 24 left.
As for the Rangers, they earned a point to reach 78 in their 59th game. They remained fourth in the crowded Metropolitan a point in back of idle Columbus. Four behind Pittsburgh, who won 3-1 in Carolina. Seven out of first behind idle Washington. They are 12 ahead of the Islanders, who prevailed 3-1 at Detroit in the first of a nine-game road trip. They remain out of the second wildcard due to Florida having one extra game left. Both are tied with 66 points.
Notes: Price finished with 28 saves to earn the game’s third star. The win was his 258th tying him with Ken Dryden for third on the all-time Canadiens list. … Lundqvist had 26 saves suffering a tough luck shootout defeat. … Montreal went 1-for-3 on the power play while the Rangers fired blanks in four attempts. That has become a sore spot again. It’s like the groundhog seeing its collective shadow. It always strikes around this time. … Shot attempts were air tight with the Rangers holding a 55-54 edge. … McDonagh had a game high 26:11 with an assist, four attempts and plus-one in 31 shifts. Weber led the Habs with 25:38 finishing with a PPG and assist with six attempts in 31 shifts. … Face-offs went in favor of Montreal 31-28 led by Phillip Danault (10-and-9). Stepan had a superb night going 13-and-6 for the Blueshirts. … The Rangers next game is Thursday in Toronto followed by a visit to Newark on Saturday. They return home for the final two games of February against Columbus on Sunday in a back-to-back and then Washington next Tuesday.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Shea Weber, Canadiens (power play goal-14th of season, assist in 31 shifts-25:38)
2nd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers (26 saves including 9/10 in 1st and big stop on Pacioretty in OT)
1st Star-Carey Price, Canadiens (28 saves including 12/13 in 2nd and the huge stop to rob Miller with a second left in OT)