The Eastern Conference side of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers is exactly what most thought it would be—a thrilling, unpredictable affair.
After New York needed seven games to move past Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with the conference semifinals proving the biggest challenge after rebounding from a 1-3 deficit, it was clear the Rangers would create fireworks in the conference finals. Montreal was obviously game after going seven games with Boston in the semifinals.
Now the two have put together some of the most entertaining hockey in recent years in what has turned out to be another fantastic playoff bracket. Here's what the remainder of the slate looks like:
|1||Rangers beat Canadiens, 7-2||May 17||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|2||Rangers beat Canadiens, 3-1||May 19||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|3||Canadiens beat Rangers, 3-2||May 22||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|4||Rangers beat Canadiens, 3-2||May 25||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|5*||Canadiens beat Rangers, 7-4||May 27||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|6*||Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers||May 29||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|7*||New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens||May 31||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
So much for Henrik Lundqvist being that unstoppable force in front of the net.
The New York netminder entered Game 5 having allowed just eight goals in four contests but on Tuesday surrendered a stunning four more and left the game in the second period, only for the Rangers to see Cam Talbot allow two more.
While Lundqvist is historically sound the start after getting rouged up, Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star encapsulates what observers should feel heading into a critical Game 6:
So uh, if Henrik Lundqvist is suddenly human for a game or two, that could change the series a little— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) May 28, 2014
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault explained his decision to yank his starting goalie from the lineup, according to Chris Peters of CBS Sports:
“I pulled him because I thought at that time we needed a little momentum shift, and I thought it might catch everybody's attention,” Vigneault explained after the game. “It did for a while. Obviously it didn't work out.”
The strategy worked and also helped to show just how competitive this series lined with bad blood truly is, as the Rangers were able to tie things up at four goals apiece after Lundqvist's stumbling out of the gate. Losing 7-4 on the road after spotting an opponent four goals is not a good indicator of what New York is capable of, but kudos to Montreal for staying alive.
For the Canadiens to continue to do so, more of the same is a requirement as the series shifts back to New York for one game.
This means not only once again taking advantage of the postseason's best goalie, but getting more production from the likes of Rene Bourque, who scored an impressive hat trick during Tuesday's triumph.
NHL on Twitter provided a look at one of his impressive goals:
James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail put Bourque's postseason performance into jarring perspective, while ESPN Stats & Info provides the historical context:
Rene Bourque is tied for second in playoff scoring with Jonathan Toews and Jeff Carter. Odd that.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) May 28, 2014
Bourque's production has helped to mitigate the somewhat absence of one P.K. Subban, who did get in on the action Tuesday with an assist on Alex Galchenyuk's power-play goal to make it 1-0. He is tied for most playoff points among defensemen and will have to remain in steady form to avoid elimination in New York.
Which team wins the series?
But in reality, most fans understand that the asterisk on the schedule that reads if necessary is all but a given between these two sides. The bad blood and overall evenly matched teams suggests the Canadiens and Rangers are destined to go a full seven rounds.
It's part of what makes playoff hockey so great. The two simply don't like each other and are willing to do whatever it takes to advance, which is nothing but a win for fans around the globe as the season comes to a close. Be sure to catch the remainder of the Eastern conference finals, if nothing else.