Rangers' Goaltender Advantage Extremely Apparent in Game 2 Win vs. Canadiens

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Rangers' Goaltender Advantage Extremely Apparent in Game 2 Win vs. Canadiens
Jean Yves-Ahern/USA Today

There was no fairy-tale story, no underdog tale of an unknown third-string goaltender stealing the show at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Monday night. 

David did not slay Goliath.

The King was not to be overthrown in a French-Canadian revolution.

Henrik Lundqvist allowed one fluky goal in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final as the New York Rangers seized control of the series with a 3-1 victory against the Montreal Canadiens. He made 40 saves, including going 19-of-19 in the third period.

The Rangers hold a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series as it shifts to back New York for Game 3 on Thursday. 

With the goaltending matchup on deck for the rest of the series, that 2-0 lead may as well be a 200-0 lead. 

Carey Price, perhaps the front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy through two rounds of the playoffs, will not play in the series after suffering a knee injury in Game 1. Coach Michel Therrien was left in a literal no-win situation, having to choose between career backup Peter Budaj and the inexperienced Dustin Tokarski

Therrien chose Tokarski. It turned it out it didn’t matter. Price could have played Game 2, and it probably wouldn’t have made a difference.

The Canadiens made a big push early and had the first five shots of the game. Max Pacioretty scored on what was technically the Canadiens’ sixth shot, when Lundqvist poke-checked the puck off of Pacioretty’s chest and into the net. It was a lucky goal, sure, but the Canadiens earned their luck with an avalanche of early pressure.

Seventeen seconds later, the air went out of the building.

A long shot from Ryan McDonagh tied the score before the Bell Centre crowd could appreciate their first lead of the series. McDonagh’s shot deflected off of the leg of Josh Gorges, the type of goal that could have only been stopped by superhero or a goaltender with psychic abilities.

The shot differential in the first period ballooned to 13-5 at one point in the first period, but Lundqvist held the fort, as the Rangers were scrambling like drunken puppies with equilibrium problems in their own zone. He stopped another grade-A chance from Pacioretty and shots from Rene Bourque, P.K. Subban and Brian Gionta to keep the score at 1-1.

Then, with 1:02 remaining, Rick Nash put the Rangers ahead for good, finishing a 3-on-2 with a quick wrister that squeezed through Tokarski.

It’s easy to say that’s a shot most goaltenders can’t stop, but it’s not hard to imagine Price pushing across to get squared to it. Tokarski, essentially a career AHL goaltender who had a .919 save percentage in the minor leagues this season, left a lot to be desired with his lateral movement on that goal. 

Martin St. Louis made it 3-1 in the second period with a power-play goal—it’s the Rangers’ seventh power-play goal since Chris Kreider returned to the lineup in Game 4 of the second round—that no one would have stopped, and that’s when Lundqvist took it upon himself to secure the Rangers' fifth straight victory. 

A monstrous blast from Subban? No problem. A puck off of teammate Carl Hagelin’s skate and on goal? He’s got it. Five shots on net with the Canadiens using a 6-on-4 attack in the final minutes? Lundqvist laughs at your futile attempts to make this a one-goal game. 

This game leaves Therrien with a decision to make with two days off until Game 3—does he stick with Tokarski, who wasn’t up to the task, or turn to Peter Budaj, who he didn’t feel was up to the task in the first place heading into Game 2? How can you publicly declare you chose Tokarski because he's a winner and then go with the guy you consider the loser among the two? 

It really doesn’t matter, as all Therrien would be doing is rearranging furniture as a meteor careens toward his home, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him go to the veteran, Budaj. In four career games against the Rangers, he is 3-1 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .920 save percentage and one shutout.

But that’s all regular season; Budaj’s career postseason split is 5.10/.843.

And Therrien thought Tokarski played well in Game 2.

In the words of Jerry Seinfeld, good luck with all that.

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No matter what the Canadiens do, Lundqvist will be there. That’s their true goaltending problem.

In winning his last five games, Lundqvist has a 1.20/.964 split. Of the three goals he has allowed in this series, two took fortunate bounces at the front of the net, with the third cutting a 7-1 lead to 7-2 in the third period of Game 1.

This was not the way this series was supposed to unfold. This was supposed to be an epic battle between two goaltenders at the height of their powers on one of the biggest stages imaginable.

Instead, we are left with one of the sport’s goaltending maestros against an understudy who is out of his league and must win four of the next five games.

Good luck with all that, Montreal.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.

All statistics via NHL.com.

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