New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens: Biggest Takeaways from Game 2
The Montreal Canadiens were flying high just a few days ago after eliminating the Boston Bruins in the second round of the playoffs.
Now, just two games into the Eastern Conference Final, the Canadiens are trying to fight off a disaster. They have lost the first two games of their series with the New York Rangers and now must try to save themselves by going on the road and playing Games 3 and 4 at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers and All-World goalie Henrik Lundqvist held off the Habs 3-1 in Game 2 at the Bell Center. With Carey Price sidelined as a result of a leg injury suffered in Game 1, the Canadiens brought plenty of offensive pressure. However, Lundqvist was not about to give Montreal any hope of breathing room in the series.
Here's a look at the key takeaways from Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Lundqvist Sets the Tone with His Early Work
After getting run out of the Bell Center by a 7-2 margin in Game 1, head coach Michel Therrien's Canadiens came out with speed, aggression and puck possession in the early moments of Game 2.
The idea was to get the early jump on the Rangers in Game 2 and put the pressure on the visitors. The Habs seemed to follow the game plan precisely as they jumped on every loose puck and seemingly won every battle.
In the early minutes, Daniel Briere made a quick pass to Rene Bourque, who was stationed in front of Lundqvist with no Rangers defender around him. Bourque, who has scored five goals in the 2014 playoff season, fired two quick shots that Lundqvist stopped.
Those saves would have been labeled miraculous for most goaltenders, and they served notice that Lundqvist was on top of his game.
The Canadiens threatened the Rangers with their speed and aggressive offensive play throughout the game, but Lundqvist set the tone with his early saves.
Color Therrien as being impressed with Lundqvist's performance. "The reason why we lost the game tonight was Lundqvist," Therrien told Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post. "Lundqvist was phenomenal. Phenomenal. Stole the game."
Lundqvist stopped 40 of 41 Montreal shots in the game.
Pacioretty Gives Montreal a 17-Second Advantage
While Lundqvist was able to blunt nearly all of Montreal's explosive first-period start, high-scoring Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty was able to set the Bell Center on its ear when he opened the scoring with an unassisted goal at the 6:14 mark of the first period.
In the previous series against the Bruins, the Canadiens were able to use first-period goals to set the tone for success. That was not the case against the Rangers.
Just 17 seconds after the Pacioretty goal, Ryan McDonagh of the Rangers launched a wrist shot from the point that deflected off the body of Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges and by Montreal goalie Dustin Tokarski.
Instead of having to fend off more Montreal momentum, the Rangers tied the scored without having the angst or pressure of playing from behind. That goal was a lucky break, and it robbed the Canadiens of their momentum.
Instead of having to fend off wave after wave of Canadiens' pressure, the goal quieted the crowd at the Bell Center and allowed the Rangers to get their bearings.
"They were all over us, but to tie it up quickly like that, that was important, to kind of even out the momentum a little bit," Lundqvist told Stephen Lorenzo of the New York Daily News. "You have to win in different ways. This was definitely a battle from the start and then we kind of came back to basics, especially in the second and third."
Price Is Sidelined by Leg Injury
Carey Price had been having a sensational year.
He led Canada to a gold medal at the Sochi Olympics and had two sensational playoff rounds against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins.
He was one of the primary reasons the Canadiens were considered the favorites as the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers got underway.
However, Price was knocked out of the series in the first game after Rangers forward Chris Kreider crashed into him in the second period. Since the Canadiens were losing badly after 40 minutes and the collision did not appear especially violent, Therrien's decision to relieve Price for the third period did not seem eventful.
That changed Monday morning. "Carey Price won't be able to play, not only for tonight but for the rest of the series," Therrien reported at his morning press meeting (h/t TSN.ca). "Really disappointed. He's our best player. We need to rally around Carey. We need to give him a chance to play again this season."
The Canadiens went with Tokarski as Price's replacement instead of backup Peter Budaj. Tokarski had played in 10 previous NHL games, compared to 296 for Budaj.
While Budaj would have been the choice based solely on experience, he has a brutal postseason history. Budaj had a 5.10 goals-against average and an .843 save percentage in seven previous postseason appearances.
Tokarski could not lead the Habs to a victory in Game 2, but he stopped 27 of 30 New York shots and was relatively solid.
"I thought he was awesome," Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher told Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post. "He made a lot big saves to keep it 3-1 and allow us to make the chase at the end."
A Pair of Wicked Snipes by Nash and St. Louis
The first two games of the Eastern Conference Final have been sheer joy for the Rangers.
Not only did they win two games at the Bell Center, they got goals from veterans Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash in both of those games.
Nash scored on a vicious wrist shot with just over one minute to go in the first period to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. Nash, Kreider and Derek Stepan skated into the Montreal zone on a 3-on-2 rush. Nash was on the right side of that pair, and when Kreider slipped a pass in his direction, he one-timed a shot that surprised Tokarski with its quickness.
That goal silenced the Bell Center crowd. Montreal had hopes of tying the score in the early part of the second period, but Alex Galchenyuk was called for tripping at the 7:29 mark and that left the Canadiens shorthanded.
The Rangers added to their lead on the subsequent power play. St. Louis found a soft spot in the Canadiens' defense in the upper slot, and he fired a deadly shot into the upper corner of the net after taking a tape-to-tape pass from Stepan. That goal gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead and proved to be the dagger since Lunqvist was so sharp.
Missing in Action: Thomas Vanek
Thomas Vanek is one of the top snipers in the NHL. He has scored 30 or more goals four times in his career, and he scored four goals for the Habs in their recent upset of the Bruins.
With Price on the sidelines as a result of his leg injury, the Canadiens needed all hands on deck in Game 2 against the Rangers. They needed all their forwards skating hard and producing scoring opportunities.
The message must not have gotten across to Vanek. The enigmatic forward did not produce one shot on goal.
Vanek was on the ice for 11:41 and was simply a non-factor. Midway through the first period, Vanek had the puck on his stick as he attempted to create a scoring opportunity against the Rangers while skating up the left wing.
Instead of shifting the puck to his forehand side and firing a hard-wrister, Vanek let go of an indiscriminate backhander that failed as both a shot and a pass.
The Montreal fans did not appreciate Vanek's effort and booed him at several points in the game.
The Canadiens needed a huge effort from their trade-deadline acquisition, but he appeared to go through the motions in one of the team's most important games of the year.