Montreal Canadiens' Biggest Question Marks in NHL Playoff Series vs. Rangers
The Montreal Canadiens have dug themselves a huge hole in their NHL playoff series versus the New York Rangers. Things didn't exactly go as planned at home, and now they head out on the road down two games to none.
They have also lost their star goalie and best player for the remainder of the series, as Carey Price will not return after being run into by Chris Kreider in Game 1.
The Canadiens face an uphill climb if they hope to get back into this series and there are plenty of uncertainties as the series shifts to New York.
Here are the Montreal Canadiens' biggest question marks for the remainder of their Round 3 series against the New York Rangers.
Who Starts Game 3?
Michel Therrien surprised many with his decision to go with Dustin Tokarski in Game 2. It was expected that Therrien would opt for Peter Budaj, the veteran who has been Carey Price's backup for three seasons.
Budaj's playoff stats leave much to be desired, however. In seven career postseason games, he is 0-2 with a 5.13 goals-against average and a .843 save percentage.
Tokarski, on the other hand, has a history of winning big games. He was the Memorial Cup MVP in 2008, won the gold medal for Canada at the World Juniors and won the Calder Cup with Norfolk of the AHL, as Arpon Basu of NHL.com points out.
Hence the decision to go with Tokarski. Making his first career playoff start, the 24-year-old turned in a pretty solid performance.
He can't be faulted on New York's first goal, which bounced off Josh Gorges just in front of him. He got a piece of New York's second and maybe should have stopped it, although one-timers from Rick Nash usually go in the net. And he had no chance on the third, a rocket from the slot off the stick of Martin St. Louis.
In all, Tokarski made 27 saves, and the loss certainly can't be pinned on him.
So who does Therrien turn to in Game 3? Tokarski played well enough to earn another start, but the Habs' bench boss might decide to turn to Budaj, who has played some solid road games for the team this season.
Whoever is in goal will need to turn in a fantastic performance. The Canadiens are going to need a goalie to step up and steal a game or two in this series if they hope to come back.
Can Montreal Contain New York's Speed?
The Canadiens obviously weren't ready for it in Game 1. The Rangers won just about every foot race to the puck and were constantly getting free behind the Habs defense.
Chris Kreider was especially fast as he impacted the game more so than any other player.
The Habs were much more prepared in Game 2, but the speed of the New York forwards still affected the outcome. The back-breaking second goal was a result of quickness, as Kreider beat Brian Gionta off the boards in his own end, raced up the ice with his two speedy linemates on a 3-on-2 and fed Rick Nash for the one-timed goal.
Those situations didn't happen nearly as often in Game 2 as they did in Game 1, but the Rangers were able to capitalize nonetheless. Montreal proved that they can keep up with New York's speed for most of the game. They still lost, however, and a lightning-quick 3-on-2 rush was a big reason why.
With a back-up, or third-string, goalie between the pipes, the Canadiens are going to have to be mistake-free defensively. This means effectively shutting down New York's speed game for a full 60 minutes.
They did a decent job of this in Game 2, but will need to be even better in Games 3 and 4 if they hope to get a win or two.
How Can Montreal Stop Ryan McDonagh?
Yes, the story of Montreal trading Ryan McDonagh as part of the Scott Gomez deal back in 2009 has been overplayed during the Eastern Conference Final. But how can it not be talked about as McDonagh has terrorized the Habs so far this series?
Through two games, the Rangers defender has a whopping six points (2G, 4A). He is a plus-three and has played 49 minutes and 25 seconds.
He was named the first star of Game 2, and his four-point performance in Game 1 should have made him the top star, although he was inexplicably not in the top three.
And let's not forget his performance on the back end.
McDonagh teams up with Dan Girardi to form one of the best shutdown pairings in the league. They effectively limited Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Round 2, and they are doing the same to Montreal's top forwards in this series.
All the hype before the series was around P.K. Subban, and for good reason. The Canadiens superstar was a hero in Round 2 as Montreal upset Boston.
But McDonagh has stolen the spotlight as top defenseman so far in Round 3, and Montreal has to do something about it. They need to slow him down offensively and find ways to score on him defensively if they hope to make a comeback.
Can Montreal Solve Henrik Lundqvist?
So much for the questions as whether or not Henrik Lundqvist could withstand the pressure of playing in the Bell Centre.
The Rangers' superstar netminder has been excellent through two games, turning aside 60 of 63 shots for a .952 save percentage, and of course two wins.
He was especially excellent in Game 2 as Montreal dominated the majority of the game but was unable to solve him, save for one fortunate bounce.
Now the question shifts to whether or not the Canadiens are going to be able to score on him moving forward. He's clearly in their heads now, much like Price had Boston's forwards thinking too much in Round 2.
The Canadiens need to get back to basics. Send bodies to the net, and then send pucks there. Get screens and battle for rebounds.
They can't be worried about being too precise with their shots, or with making the perfect pass. That will only lead to missed opportunities.
Montreal doesn't need to worry about who is in its own goal if they can't score at the other end. They need to find ways to solve Lundqvist as Round 3 shifts to New York.
Do the Canadiens Believe in Themselves?
The Canadiens were as high as could be after their Round 2 upset of the Boston Bruins. Just a few days later, they're at the lowest point of their 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs run.
After two home games of the Eastern Conference Final, they're down 2-0. They've been humiliated in front of their home crowd, they've lost their best player and they didn't win a game that they should have.
There is going to be some serious doubt creeping into their minds as they head to New York for Games 3 and 4.
The Canadiens need to believe in themselves if they're going to win a few games in this series. They need to sit back and focus on the positives that have gotten them this far.
They have already proved they can play with, and beat, the best teams in the league. They've been the better team in four of the six periods in this series. Their third-string goalie has shown that he's up for the challenge of helping the Canadiens win.
These are the positives that the Habs need to focus on moving forward.
Montreal just needs to win a couple games and this is a brand new series. If they need inspiration, they just need to look back a week. Boston took a 3-2 series lead before the Habs won two in a row to take the series.
If they need more inspiration, they could look at their opponent. Down 3-1 last series, the Rangers were booed off their own ice and written off by most. Then they won three straight games to advance.
The point is this: Teams win two (or more) games in a row all the time in the playoffs and the Canadiens are certainly capable of doing so in this series.
Coming back against the Rangers won't be easy, but it's possible. They first need to believe in themselves if they hope to do so.
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