The Montreal Canadiens needed timely scoring and a bravura performance from goaltender Dustin Tokarski to claw their way back into the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers. They rose to the occasion in Game 3 on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden, winning 3-2.
After what was largely a war of attrition, the game came alive in the final minutes of the third period.
Daniel Briere scored 16 minutes and 58 seconds into the final frame to give the Canadiens a 2-1 lead.
But the hockey gods giveth, and the hockey gods taketh away.
Then, with only 29 seconds left in the game, Chris Kreider tied it up at 2-2 for the Rangers, sending Game 3 into overtime.
The Canadiens wasted little time in OT, with Alex Galchenyuk scoring 1:12 into the extra period to give Montreal the vital win.
Tokarski's performance cannot be overlooked. He made 37 saves on the night, and seemingly every time the Rangers had a goal in the bag, he found a way to knock the puck away. He was particularly adept at making himself big in the goal and quickly closing down the angles on the Rangers' shooters.
It's amazing to think that this was only his first playoff win:
Habs rookie goalie Dustin Tokarski won't forget his first NHL playoff win. Any. Time. Soon.— Yahoo Sports NHL (@YahooSportsNHL) May 23, 2014
After the game, Tokarski seemed pretty confident that he'll be between the pipes for the Canadiens going forward, per Mike Halford of Pro Hockey Talk:
Oake to Tokarski: "I'm betting that you'll start Game 4." Tokarski to Oake: "Yeah, me too." Awesome.— Mike Halford (@HalfordPHT) May 23, 2014
Had the 24-year-old not excelled to the extent that he did, Montreal would certainly be in a 3-0 deficit.
You wouldn't have guessed that the Canadiens would hang on with the way that the first period unfolded.
Carl Hagelin put the Rangers on the board first with a goal at 15:18. P.K. Subban had his shot blocked by Hagelin, who then started a quick breakaway. He and Martin St. Louis were 2-on-1 against Josh Gorges. The Canadiens defenseman blocked St. Louis' shot, but Hagelin was there to put away the rebound.
ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun was impressed with how quickly Hagelin reacted to bat the puck home. If he had waited a split-second longer, Gorges or Tokarski probably would have cleared the puck out of danger:
Hagelin nice hand-eye batting that one out of the air.— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) May 23, 2014
While many were praising Gorges' save on St. Louis' shot, Arpon Basu of LNH.com correctly noted that if he hadn't skated into Tokarski, his heroics may not have been necessary:
It's great that Josh Gorges made a great glove save, but the only reason he needed to make it was because he took out his own goalie— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) May 23, 2014
The goal was coming sooner or later for the Rangers. They had enjoyed the lion's share of scoring opportunities, with the Canadiens offering little threat to Henrik Lundqvist. New York will likely regret not having made more of its early advantage.
Perhaps the biggest moment of the first came before Hagelin's goal. While Derek Dorsett and Brandon Prust were exchanging blows, Daniel Carillo and linesman Scott Driscoll became entangled. As Carcillo was trying to free himself from Driscoll's grasp, he made contact with the linesman, immediately drawing a 10-minute game misconduct:
ESPN's John Buccigross thought that Driscoll was a bit too cavalier with how he handled the Rangers winger:
I know you can't touch the linemen and refs, but linesman's role in that Carcillo thing was a bit excessive. Carcillo wasn't a threat.— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) May 23, 2014
That event and subsequent game misconduct could have far-reaching consequences. According to Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News, Carcillo could be looking at a 10-game suspension:
If I'm reading Rule 40.3 correctly, Carcillo gets at least 10-game suspension: Deliberately applies physical force without intent to injure— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) May 23, 2014
Carcillo may not get suspended, but rulebook reads he would for such contact. So up to officials' discretion, as it seems, everything is— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) May 23, 2014
Things went from bad to worse for the Rangers in the second period. At the 3:20 mark, Andrei Markov leveled the score. He ghosted into an attacking position, giving Max Pacioretty an easy target. Markov unleashed a vicious shot that found its way past Lundqvist.
The goal came completely against the run of play. Montreal was firmly on the back foot, but it made the most of what had been one of its best scoring opportunities of the game to that point:
My eyes are failing me, Markov not Pacioretty, ties it. Somehow this is a tie game despite Rangers' dominance. Quiets the crowd here— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) May 23, 2014
Markov's goal may not have made much of a difference had Tokarski not stood on his head. The Canadiens could've easily been down 2-1 or 3-1 two-thirds of the way through. He was mature beyond his years between the pipes, constantly repelling the Rangers' attacks. His save on St. Louis in the second period was a moment of brilliance.
Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press wondered when Tokarski's offense might lend him a hand:
In 5-plus periods, Tokarski has faced 61 shots. Meanwhile, the Habs have scored 2 goals. How about giving the kid a little help?— randy turner (@randyturner15) May 23, 2014
ESPN thought that the Canadiens goaltender was doing his best to emulate his opposite number:
The rookie goalie for Montreal, Dustin Tokarski, is doing his best Henrik Lunqvist impression tonight.— ESPN (@espn) May 23, 2014
The Canadiens needed to win on Thursday night to stay alive in the series, and they got it. Couple that momentum with Tokarski's performance, and Montreal may be dead just yet..
How the league handles Carcillo's prospective punishment will also have a major impact on the rest of the Eastern Conference Finals. Taking him out of the Rangers lineup would be a major blow for New York.