Montreal Canadiens' Most Impressive Players in Eastern Conference Final So Far
The Montreal Canadiens are still alive in the Eastern Conference Final versus the New York Rangers. Their 7-4 victory on Tuesday night in Montreal forced a Game 6 on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
In a series that has looked like it was over on more than one occasion, the Habs once again believe. They are undefeated in three elimination games in the 2014 playoffs and will look to continue that streak in Game 6.
A number of players have helped Montreal get back in this series, and it hasn't only been the usual stars. There have been some solid performances from some individuals who weren't necessarily expected to contribute at the level that they have been.
Here's a look at the five most impressive Montreal Canadiens so far in the Eastern Conference Final.
5. Brendan Gallagher
If there were an award for the hardest-working player in the NHL, Brendan Gallagher would already be a two-time winner. The second-year forward simply never takes a shift off, which is the biggest reason why he sneaks onto this list of Montreal's most impressive players in the Eastern Conference Final.
Statistically, he has just two assists against the Rangers. He got a helper on Andrei Markov's second-period goal in Game 2 and made a dazzling pass while falling to the ice to Max Pacioretty for his Game 5 marker.
He also has 17 shots on goal in the series and has a plus/minus rating of even. But Gallagher impacts the game in ways not noted on the scoresheet.
The 5'9", 180-pound winger is an absolute pest on the ice. He wreaks havoc on opposing defenseman and creates opportunities for his linemates.
Gallagher uses his speed to get on defenseman quickly, and once he's there the opponent knows. He physically engages with players much bigger than him and more often than not he comes out with the puck.
It should also be noted that he plays each game against the opponent's top defensive pairing. He got under Zdeno Chara's skin in Round 2 and has been giving Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh fits during the ECF as well.
He's also invaluable in front of the net, as he's one of the few Habs forwards who consistently crashes the crease when given the opportunity. His presence in front of Henrik Lundqvist was the reason for P.K. Subban's goal in Game 4—in fact, it might have ricocheted off his leg and in.
Gallagher is Montreal's hardest-working player night in and night out. He never quits, and his attitude has seemed to rub off on the Canadiens during this playoff run. He certainly deserves a mention as one of Montreal's most impressive players.
4. Rene Bourque
Okay, so Rene Bourque hasn't done much else other than his three-goal outburst in Game 5. But considering the circumstances, that performance alone gets him the four-spot on this list.
With the Canadiens' backs against the wall, Bourque netted the Canadiens' first playoff hat trick since Andrei Kostitsyn back in 2010. Coincidentally, Kostitsyn's came against Washington when Montreal rallied from a three-games-to-one deficit.
Other fun facts: He is the first Canadien to score three when the Habs are facing elimination since Maurice Richard did so in 1945, and the first to register a hat trick in the Eastern Conference Final since Guy Lafleur in 1975, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (via Tim Wharnsby of CBC.ca).
It was quite the performance from Bourque, and he now gets his name beside Richard and Lafleur in the record books. That's impressive.
For the series, Bourque's stat line is remarkable: four goals and two assists in five games. But points don't always tell the story and, other than his fantastic Game 5 performance, he really hasn't played that well.
He got a few points in Games 1-4, but he looked nothing like the Bourque the Canadiens saw in the opening round against Tampa Bay. He played good, but not great.
Game 5 was, of course, the best game of his season, and perhaps his career. Montreal will hope for at least one more goal out of Bourque before this series is finished.
3. Mike Weaver
Mike Weaver's incredible postseason continues; he comes in as the top defenseman on this list of the most impressive Canadiens during the Eastern Conference Final.
He has played solid defense and continues to be a warrior, blocking 17 shots through five games. He is versatile and does whatever is asked of him. He has adapted to not only a different partner in this series, but a different role altogether.
Weaver was counted on much more in Game 5 as he moved up the depth chart to skate with Andrei Markov in the absence of Alexei Emelin. He wound up logging 19:33 of ice time and looked great, despite averaging just 15:28 during the 2014 playoffs.
He has also been arguably the Canadiens' best penalty-killer. He was on the ice for 6:31 while shorthanded in Game 1 and 5:26 in Game 5. In total he has played a whopping 19:13 of penalty-killing time in the ECF.
Weaver continues to prove to Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon that he was wrong in his evaluation of the 36-year-old: He is worth much more than a fifth-round pick. He's enjoying another impressive series and deserves the No. 3 spot on this list.
2. Alex Galchenyuk
Alex Galchenyuk has certainly made his mark on the Eastern Conference Final after returning from injury.
The sophomore, still just 20 years old, returned to the Canadiens' lineup in Game 2. He had been sidelined since April 9 with a knee injury.
Galchenyuk has consistently gotten better as the series has gone on. His speed has caused problems for the New York defenders, his forecheck has been tenacious and he's made some beautiful passes.
But it is the two big goals he has scored in the ECF that earn him the No. 2 spot on this list.
It could be argued that his first career playoff goal was the most important of the series, as his overtime marker in Game 3 got the Habs back in it. It wasn't the prettiest goal he'll ever score, but his hard work was rewarded as he drove to the net.
His second of the series was another huge goal, as his deflection of Subban's point shot 1:48 into Game 5 got the Habs on the board. The Canadiens are a much better team when playing with the lead. They went on to win and force Game 6.
Galchenyuk's return has been a huge boost for the Canadiens in Round 3. He's scored some big goals already and is playing well enough that he could be a factor in the outcome of this series.
1. Dustin Tokarski
Dustin Tokarski is the easy choice for most impressive Montreal Canadien in the Eastern Conference Final.
Expectations were low in Montreal after Game 1 when it was announced that Carey Price would not play another game in the series. Most expected backup Peter Budaj to start in goal, but Therrien decided to go with the third-stringer instead.
Tokarski has since done all he can to keep the Montreal Canadiens in this series. He has given his team a chance to win each game he has played in, and you can't ask your goaltender for much more than that.
In Game 2, making his first career playoff start, Tokarski made 27 saves while allowing two goals he had absolutely no chance on. His team provided no offensive support, however, as it lost 3-1.
Game 3 saw Tokarski kick away 35 shots while allowing just two against in Montreal's 3-2 overtime win.
Tokarski kept Montreal in it again in the Game 4 loss, making 21 saves while only allowing goals when New York skaters were in alone on him.
And in Game 5, Tokarski shook off some nervous moments in the second as his team fell apart in front of him. He rebounded to make some huge saves as Montreal went on to win 7-4.
For the series, he is 2-2 with a 2.96 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage. He has made some highlight reel saves, many off of the stick of Martin St. Louis.
He has frustrated the Rangers so much that many of them looked reluctant to shoot, especially on the power play, in Game 5. He has played well enough to get in their heads, and that's impressive for someone who began the series as the third-string goaltender.
Considering the expectations and the way he has played, Tokarski has certainly been Montreal's most impressive player in the Eastern Conference Final. But the job's not done yet, and the Canadiens need two more big performances from him.
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