New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens: Biggest Takeaways from Game 5
The Montreal Canadiens have passed the first of three potential win-or-go-home examinations.
The Habs took the ice at the Bell Center Tuesday night trailing the New York Rangers three games to one in the Eastern Conference Final. If they are going to survive and advance to the Stanley Cup Final, that means they are going to have to beat the Rangers three straight times.
They survived the first of those games with an explosive 7-4 victory over the Rangers that featured a hat trick from overachieving Rene Bourque and a rare off-night from New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
The Canadiens displayed the urgency needed to earn a trip back to Madison Square Garden for Game 6, while New York's mid-game push was not enough.
Here are the key takeaways from Game 5 of the series.
Rene Bourque Carries the Habs with a Hat Trick
Rene Bourque has been a going concern for the Montreal Canadiens throughout the playoffs. He had chipped in with five timely goals before Game 5 against the Rangers, but that was just a precursor to his dominant performance.
Bourque scored three goals against the Rangers, and the New York defense simply could not contain him.
Bourque scored his first goal at the 6:54 mark of the second period, giving the Habs a 4-1 lead and causing Rangers coach Alain Vigneault to pull Henrik Lundqvist and replace him with backup Cam Talbot.
Bourque got back on the scoreboard later in the second period after the Rangers had rallied to tie the score at 4-4. He took a sweet pass from Dale Weise in the slot and wristed the puck by Talbot to give the Habs a 5-4 lead at the 15:10 mark.
The Rangers were pressing for the tying goal in the minutes that followed, but Bourque was not about to let his team's advantage disappear. He scored his hat trick goal early in the third period as he went in alone on Talbot after taking another pass from Weise. Bourque chipped the puck over Talbot's shoulder to send the Bell Center crowd into a frenzy.
That goal sapped much of the energy that was left on the New York bench and all but guaranteed the two teams would head back to New York for Game 6.
Bourque's playoff explosion has been completely unexpected. He scored a career-low nine goals in the regular season and he was scratched in six of the Habs' final 16 regular-season games.
"It was definitely a good game for me to step up and help the team," Bourque told Arpon Basu of NHL.com.
Bourque is tied with Jeff Carter of the Los Angeles Kings and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks for second in playoff goal scoring with eight. Marian Gaborik of the Kings leads the league with 10 postseason goals.
The King Is Forced to Take a Seat
The Rangers had just tied the game midway through the first period when Derek Stepan scored on a long shot that befuddled Montreal goalie Dustin Tokarski.
It was the kind of shot that most goalies would have stopped with ease: an unscreened wrister that found the corner of the net. Tokarski could only shake his head after the red light at the Bell Center was turned on.
But instead of taking charge after receiving that gift of a goal, Henrik Lundqvist proved even more generous. He gave up the go-ahead goal to Tomas Plekanec less than two minutes after the Rangers had tied it. Plekanec skated across the New York blue line with speed, took one stride to his left and shot back to the right side.
Lundqvist had an unfettered view of the shot, but it went over his glove and into the corner of the net. It was not the kind of goal that the best netminder in the sport usually gives up.
Lundqvist gave up two more goals before the midway point of the second period, and head coach Alain Vigneault had seen enough. He pulled Lundqvist and replaced him with backup Cam Talbot.
Lundqvist had been one of the Rangers' leading candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy before his performance in Game 5, but he could not hold up his end against the Habs.
“Absolutely it’s disappointing,” Lundqvist told Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post. “I thought they had a little bit more desperation. They played well, but you need a short memory.”
Despite giving up four goals on 19 shots in less than 29 minutes, look for Lundqvist to have that short memory in Game 6 Thursday night.
Rangers Surge Nearly Ruins Canadiens' Plans
The New York Rangers were about to get run out of the Bell Center.
After Rene Bourque scored his first goal in the second period, the Canadiens had a 4-1 lead and appeared to have control of the game.
Alain Vigneault tried to spark his team with a goalie change, and the move had the desired impact.
Rick Nash scored less than three minutes later on a wrist shot. Derek Stepan followed with a goal that drew the Rangers to within one and the previously raucous Bell Center suddenly became a bit quieter as Habs fans could feel the game slipping away.
The anxiety reached a new level when Chris Kreider tipped home a perfect pass from Ryan McDonagh on the power play as the Rangers tied the score at 4-4.
Throaty boos came down from the stands as Montreal fans had seen their three-goal lead disappear. The Rangers had gotten back in the game and it seemed that they had all the momentum.
However, that was not the case as Bourque scored less than a minute after Kreider to give the Canadiens a lead that they would not relinquish.
While the Rangers did not win, they showed they could score in bunches and that Montreal's Dustin Tokarski was not an impenetrable force in goal.
Moore Delivers Brutal Head Shot to Montreal's Weise
Rangers defenseman John Moore and Canadiens forward Dale Weise were having their own private battle within Game 5 at the Bell Center.
Moore started matters in the first period when he delivered a punishing but legal body check to Weise. Weise responded with a hard hit of his own that knocked Moore to the ice in the second period.
In addition to those two big hits, the two made additional contact with each other throughout the game. However, the confrontation turned ugly midway through the third period when Moore delivered a hard shoulder/elbow to Weise's upper body from the blind side. The hit knocked Weise's helmet off and sent him tumbling to the ice.
Moore was assessed a match penalty that left the Rangers shorthanded for five minutes. A shaky Weise needed assistance to get off the ice.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault acknowledged that the Moore hit was not legal. “The league will do what it has to do,” Vigneault told Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post. “I think he was penalized on the ice. John is definitely not the type of player to try to hurt someone, but it was a late hit and it was the right call on the ice.”
Brandon Prust of the Canadiens was suspended for two games earlier in the series for his hit on Derek Stepan. A suspension for Moore is expected.
Goaltending Becomes an Issue for One Night
The Eastern Conference Final matchup between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens appeared to be a stellar battle between two of the best goaltenders in the world.
Henrik Lundqvist had been given his nickname of The King because of his ability to keep the Rangers in games with his consistently stellar play. Carey Price had earned a gold medal for Canada in the Olympics and had been the Canadiens' best player throughout the season.
When Price was injured in Game 1, rookie Dustin Tokarski had filled in admirably and given the Habs hope that they could survive the series.
After the Rangers had registered a Game 1 runaway, the goaltenders had performed quite well in the next three games.
Game 5 did not follow that pattern. Lundqvist was beaten four times and was pulled from the game in the second period. Tokarski also looked shaky in giving up four goals through two periods.
While Tokarski would settle down in the third period and make some key stops that would help the Habs emerge with the victory, goaltending was a problem for both teams in Game 5.
There's little reason to think that Lundqvist won't return to form in Game 6, but Tokarski is still an unproven rookie. He may have a harder time shaking off a tough night than "The King."