The New York Rangers will attempt to stick a knife in the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden by taking a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final.
The Rangers won both games at the Bell Centre to take a commanding lead in the best-of-seven series. And really, it could not have gone much worse for the Canadiens.
They lost Carey Price to injury. They allowed Rick Nash, who hadn't scored in the first two rounds, to score in Games 1 and 2. The Rangers' power play, struggling throughout the playoffs, scored four times. Henrik Lundqvist, who couldn't buy a win at the Bell Centre, was dominant in each victory.
There's still some hope for the Canadiens, but a loss in Game 3 would all but end this series.
When: May 22, 8 p.m. ET
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
Watch: NBCSN, CBC, RDS
Canadiens' Top Storylines
Dustin Tokarski Goes Again
Michel Therrien announced his goaltender for Thursday's Game 3, and he's sticking with the youngster. It's not much of a surprise that Therrien is going with Tokarski, considering he had high praise for him after he allowed three goals in Game 2.
Two of the goals were almost unstoppable, while the other was off a three-on-two rush the Canadiens could have defended better.
Still, Tokarski will need to raise his game if the Canadiens are to avoid being pushed to the brink. Therrien may get second-guessed if the Rangers make quick work of the Canadiens in this series, but going with Tokarski over Peter Budaj was the best option with Carey Price out.
Can the Power Play Deliver?
It was less than two weeks ago when the Rangers' struggling power play was under the microscope and the Canadiens' power play was devastating the Boston Bruins in the second round.
Through two games, it's the Canadiens who suddenly need something—anything—from their man advantage.
The Canadiens are 0-of-7 on the power play this series despite unleashing 14 shots on Henrik Lundqvist, 10 coming in Game 2. While the power play was the great equalizer against the Bruins, it hasn't made the difference against the Rangers.
Can P.K. Subban Be Better?
Yes, Subban bombed nine shots on net in Game 2, but his discipline and defense have left a lot to be desired in this series.
A turnover and poor recovery speed late in the second period of Game 1 led to a Brad Richards goal that made it 4-1.
In Game 2, he decided to punch a Ranger in the upper chest with a referee standing two feet away, leaving the Canadiens shorthanded. On Rick Nash's goal off that aforementioned three-on-two, he backed up too much with Chris Kreider rushing down the left wing, making the cross-ice pass much easier.
Subban has another level he showed in the Bruins series that he needs to rediscover immediately.
Rangers' Top Storylines
The Impenetrable Henrik Lundqvist
Since losing Game 4 against the Penguins in the second round, Lundqvist has been nearly impenetrable. He's allowed one goal in four of the games and two in the other, a 7-2 victory.
Lundqvist made 40 saves in Game 2, a sign the Canadiens weren't far off from a win if not for the goaltender's heroics.
If Lundqvist doesn't reveal any cracks in his armor during Game 3, there's an above-average chance this series doesn't get back to Montreal for Game 5.
The Potential for a Letdown
By winning Game 2, the Rangers snapped a 13-game losing streak in playoff games that occurred while they were leading a series.
"He's as good as he's been all year," coach Alain Vigneault told the press after practice at MSG on Wednesday. "Obviously, he's in a zone right now, and at this time of the year you need strong goaltending. The competition is so good, the shooters are so good. If you make it to this time it's because you're playing against the best teams. You need your goaltender to be your best player or one of your best players, and Hank's certainly done that for us."
That's good news for the Rangers, but here's the bad news: The last time they led 2-0 in a series was 2009, when they won Games 1 and 2 in Washington before losing the series to the Capitals in seven games.
The Rangers haven't shown a killer instinct in a very long time in a postseason series. The last thing they can afford to do right now is give the Canadiens hope.
Defending Their Home Ice
The Rangers have been fantastic on the road in the playoffs and in the regular season. They are 6-3 away from MSG in the playoffs and had the fourth-best road record (25-14-2) in the regular season.
"Well, having fan support is obviously huge at this time of the year," Vigneault said after practice on Wednesday. "Unconditional love, it's something that's really beneficial to a team. I mean, it's so demanding on the ice. They could really help you energy‑wise. It's a fun time. I'm sure it's fun for them, and it's definitely fun for us.
At MSG, however, it has been a different story.
During Game 4 against the Penguins, things turned ugly when the fans began booing Rick Nash when he touched the puck. The Rangers were a losing team at home in the regular season (20-17-4), so it's not as if home ice should be daunting to the Canadiens.
Prediction: Rangers 4, Canadiens 3, OT
All statistics via NHL.com.
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