Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens was as wildly entertaining and high-scoring as any NHL fan could hope for.
When the dust settled, Montreal managed to shake off blowing a three-goal lead and staved off elimination, defeating New York 7-4 at Bell Centre to cut its series deficit to 3-2. The 11 combined goals were the most scored in any game this postseason.
It was wild, it was feisty, but most importantly, it was a Canadiens win! See you at MSG for Game 6 Thursday! pic.twitter.com/EZFrgXTBSE— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) May 28, 2014
As amazing as Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been in pursuit of this year's Stanley Cup, he conceded four goals on just 19 shots, leading to backup Cam Talbot replacing him during the second period.
Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo Sports felt the move was deserved:
No problem staying with Talbot here. Lundqvist didn't have it tonight.— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) May 28, 2014
Rene Bourque led the charge for the victors with a hat trick, scoring the eventual game-winner. NHL Public Relations and ESPN Stats & Info noted the historical significance of Bourque's accomplishment:
Talbot fared little better than Lundqvist, stopping just six of eight shots. To the Canadiens' credit, they dominated puck possession for much of the evening and out-shot the Blueshirts 24-16 through the first two periods, then dug in deep in the third to play the stout defense they're accustomed to.
Rangers forward Chris Kreider, who drew controversy for unintentionally injuring Montreal star goalie Carey Price earlier in the series, put the visitors in a hole almost right after the puck dropped. Kreider tripped Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban just 22 seconds into the game, leading to Subban getting the primary assist on the subsequent power-play goal by Alex Galchenyuk to give Montreal a 1-0 lead 1:48 in.
About halfway through the first, Kreider redeemed himself by feeding the puck ahead to Derek Stepan, who squeezed through two Habs defenders to snap a shot from just inside the blue line to beat Dustin Tokarski, evening things at one apiece:
Less than two minutes later, Tomas Plekanec lit the lamp to make it 2-1 with a peculiar slap shot that sailed past Lundqvist, which NHL.com's Arpon Basu made sure to highlight:
That Tomas Plekanec shot is very tricky for goalies to pick up. He flips it in the air and smacks it on the bounce. Very unorthodox shot.— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) May 28, 2014
It appeared Montreal would run away with the game after piling on two more goals within the first seven minutes of the second period—netted by Max Pacioretty and Bourque—chasing Lundqvist from the net.
Pacioretty's goal was especially notable, as Brendan Gallagher put a backhand pass right on the money as he spun and fell to the ice before Pacioretty rifled it in:
But the following quote from Rangers coach Alain Vigneault prior to Game 5 had serious relevance in describing what got New York back into the contest.
"I think our guys do a good job whether it be on the forecheck coming back in the right positions and trying to create those battles where you've a chance to make a couple plays and get it out," said Vigneault, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "When we don't, (our) goaltender stops the puck."
Lundqvist wasn't stopping the puck, yet the Rangers made up their deficit in a hurry. All-Star Rick Nash threw a junk shot toward the net that went off Josh Gorges' stick and past Tokarski, then a forecheck by Nash and hustle by his teammates led to a scramble in front, with Stepan emerging to shove it home on the doorstep.
At 13:05 in the second, Plekanec went to the box for diving. That prompted this reaction from the Toronto Star's Bruce Arthur:
You know, now is not the time I personally would choose to take a embellishment penalty, Tomas Plekanec— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) May 28, 2014
He proved to be right, because on the subsequent power play, it was Kreider who came through with the equalizer, marking the Rangers' third goal in a span of 4:24. Bourque came through in the clutch not long after, though. Just 58 seconds later, he got the better of Talbot to put the Canadiens back on top, 5-4.
ESPN's Numbers Never Lie offers cutting-edge analysis oftentimes, but this tweet was a little lighter in tone to describe the scoring explosion that transpired in the second period:
Apparently, this Rangers/Canadiens game is working under "first to 10 wins" rules...— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) May 28, 2014
The NHL on NBC also provided an apt description of the fast-paced, pulse-pounding action:
This game is "cray!" Tune into the Rangers and Canadiens on NBCSN! Habs lead 5-4. #StanleyCup— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) May 28, 2014
Even though the scoring cooled somewhat during the final period, there was no shortage of intensity. Bourque completed his hat trick for some needed insurance at the 6:33 mark. When the Rangers couldn't generate any further offense, frustration boiled over and John Moore received a five-minute major for elbowing Dale Weise.
That eliminated any aspirations New York could have had to fight its way back into the contest. Vigneault was forced to bring on an extra attacker sooner than he would've liked. Eventually, David Desharnais tapped in a feed from Pacioretty into the vacant net.
Former Habs head coach Jacques Martin, whose Montreal club rallied from a 3-1 playoff deficit to knock off the Washington Capitals in 2010, remarked about this year's team ahead of Tuesday's win-or-go-home scenario, per ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun:
When you look at the Canadiens in this series, besides Game 1, they could have easily won Game 2 or Game 4. From a confidence standpoint, those guys should be pretty confident, if they play the same way. Probably the area they'd want to focus is to be more opportunistic. I know for our team in 2010, the key was whether we could get ahead; we were really good once we got ahead. We defended well and our power play was also key. Once we took a lead, we were very confident.
How will the rest of the East finals play out?
The good news for the Rangers is that they can retreat to the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden for Game 6. Lundqvist had an off night but has proven capable of playing exceptional hockey in the most critical situations. Nash's multi-point game is also a good sign, as he's struggled offensively during the playoffs throughout his career.
But there is a certain amount of pressure on the Blueshirts to close the series out at home. Just like they did on Tuesday, the Habs will play with a relentless attack while facing elimination. Whether that will be good enough to win on the road remains to be seen, but it has to be encouraging for Montreal that it managed to push New York to overtime in Games 3 and 4.
Given the immense changes in momentum and stretches of dominance from both teams in this series, anything can happen from here. It is key for the Canadiens to shore up their defense, because scoring so often away from home is unlikely and not the style of play they thrive on.