The Montreal Canadiens had every reason to be deflated when Chris Kreider tied Game 3 in the final minute to turn a New York Rangers loss into a potential stake-through-the-heart victory in overtime.
Alex Galchenyuk would have none of it, though. Early in overtime, he drove to the net and was rewarded as a Tomas Plekanec shot bounced off Henrik Lundqvist, ricocheted off Galchenyuk's chest and into the net for a 3-2 Canadiens victory that trimmed the Rangers' lead in the best-of-seven series to 2-1.
On Sunday night, the Canadiens will look to even the series that takes on a new shape with Brandon Prust suspended two games for a late hit on Derek Stepan, who looks unlikely for Game 4 after surgery for a fractured jaw.
When: May 25, 8 p.m. ET
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
Watch: NBCSN, CBC, RDS
Canadiens' Top Storylines
Protecting Dustin Tokarski
No, not from Kreider.
The Canadiens did a much better job of denying the Rangers' quality scoring chances in Game 3, blocking 22 shots in total. While the Rangers won the overall shot battle (37-25) after taking a 14-4 edge in first-period shots, the Canadiens leveled the field the rest of the way.
This could have something to do with the knowledge that Tokarski needs a little more help than Carey Price to keep pucks out of the net. He got the job done in Game 3, but he stopped everything he saw, and he saw nearly everything.
As a matter of fact, Andrei Markov had a great shot block that led to Daniel Briere's goal late in the third period that was nearly the winner.
The Canadiens will need to do much of the same in Game 4.
Again, where is the Habs power play?
Three games. Nine chances. Zero power-play goals.
While the power play was dangerous in Game 2, it barely generated a worthy scoring opportunity (one shot) in its two chances in Game 3. The Canadiens have had a hard time gaining the offensive zone, and when they do, the Rangers have looked a step ahead in most situations.
The three-game power-play drought is their longest of the postseason, so it could be a situation where it's due. It's impossible to know what an officiating crew is going to call or not call from game to game, but if Game 4 is called tightly and the Habs can get four chances, they could finally break through.
Michael Bournival replacing Brandon Prust
With Prust beginning his two-game suspension, Michael Bournival will replace him on the fourth line. It's hardly a dent into the armor of the Canadiens, as both Prust and Bournival usually play in the eight-to-10-minute range and don't offer much in the way of offense.
Bournival has far more speed, but Prust's true value comes when the opponent has a power play.
Prust is part of the Canadiens' regular rotation on the penalty kill, while Bournival does not participate in that role. Again, it shouldn't be a huge deal, as the Canadiens have Lars Eller, Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty to pick up the penalty-killing slack, but this is where Prust's absence could hurt the most, if at all.
Rangers' Top Storylines
The loss of Derek Stepan
As of the time of this story, Stepan was still in a New York hospital recovering from surgery to have a plate inserted into his face to help with the healing of a fractured jaw. Coach Alain Vigneault didn't rule Stepan out of Game 4, as there could be a chance he wears a full face shield and plays, but it didn't sound good Saturday.
Stepan centers the Rangers' top line with Kreider and Rick Nash. Based on line rushes at Saturday's practice, Vigneault is considering having fourth-line center Dominic Moore center the top line and placing J.T. Miller on the fourth line with Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett.
The probable loss of Stepan is bad news, but there is some good news for the Rangers too.
The return of Derick Brassard
After leaving Game 1 with a back injury and missing Games 2 and 3, the Rangers' third-line center declared himself ready to return for Game 4.
It's the third line based on ice time, but Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot have been the Rangers' most productive unit in the postseason. They weren't quite the same in Game 3 with Moore centering the line for the most part (seven shots, zero points, minus-five), and Moore was on the ice for Galchenyuk's overtime winner.
This line has done everything it's been asked and more in the playoffs, but it may have to produce more if Stepan is out of the lineup.
Will there be Stepan retribution?
Say what you want about Kreider sliding into Price, but despite Alexei Emelin blatantly tripping Kreider into his goaltender, the Canadiens (Prust especially) were unhappy with that play. It's not hard to draw a straight line from that incident to the Prust/Stepan incident in Game 3.
The question now becomes in this eye-for-an-eye league, will the Rangers look to do damage to a Canadiens star player?
Under coach John Tortorella, there's little doubt someone like Dorsett would have to lay a hit on or try to fight someone like Plekanec or Pacioretty, but Vigneault has preached playing whistle to whistle and turning the other cheek.
The Bruins engaging the Canadiens in that manner was a big reason for their second-round downfall. If the Rangers fall victim to the Canadiens' antagonizing ways, they too could find their season ending in short order.
Prediction: Rangers 4, Canadiens 2
All statistics via NHL.com.
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