A series filled with plenty of everything—intrigue, goal scoring, bad blood—will continue for at least one more game, as the New York Rangers take a second swing at eliminating the Montreal Canadiens from the 2014 NHL playoffs.
Their first opportunity was in Game 5 in Montreal, but despite the Rangers creating plenty of offence (scoring four goals), the Canadiens stormed back with seven of their own, forcing at least one more contest and making the possibility of a seventh game back in Montreal much more realistic.
Will this series get that far?
Rangers’ Top Storylines
Henrik Lundqvist: The king is dead, long live the king
Heaven help the goaltender who has a bad game or two in the playoffs. Henrik Lundqvist, the exceptional Rangers goalie who was so brilliant through two rounds, has struggled against Montreal at points. He had a modest 0.912 save percentage in the third round so far and an ugly 0.877 save percentage over the last three games.
Those perceived problems have gotten a lot of attention, but the simple fact is that every starter in the NHL, from the very best all the way down to Ondrej Pavelec, can look bad over a three-game segment. Lundqvist just does it much less frequently than the guys at the shallow end of the goalie pool.
Replacing John Moore
With John Moore suspended for two games, there is an opening on the New York blue line. It is expected that Moore’s replacement will be Raphael Diaz, the defenceman acquired by the Rangers from Vancouver at the trade deadline in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick. Diaz has previously played two games for New York.
If Diaz dresses, he will doubly owe Dale Weise for his spot in the lineup. Weise was not only the player who Moore hit to warrant the suspension, but he was also the player going the other way in the deal that sent Diaz from Montreal to Vancouver back in February.
Can the Rangers close out the series in New York?
The Rangers had a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final on Tuesday. Instead, Montreal lit the Blueshirts up for seven goals, avenging its 7-2 drubbing in Game 1 of the third round. The pressure now shifts to the Rangers, who must win on Thursday or face the prospect of heading back to Montreal for a seventh game having lost two in a row.
Canadiens’ Top Storylines
Can Montreal’s defence balance the need to be aggressive with play in its own end?
P.K. Subban leads the Canadiens in playoff scoring with 14 points, while Andrei Markov with 10 isn’t all that far behind him. As former NHL player and coach Craig Ramsay explained to Dan Rosen of NHL.com, an aggressive defence is a critical ingredient in the Habs’ attack:
You want to make sure you're not playing safe just because there were a bunch of goals scored [in Game 5]. I think you still have to be aggressive in the offensive zone, you have to be solid in the neutral zone and looking for turnovers, and you have to have your 'D' joining rushes. It'll be those three things. Just don't be slow.
Ramsay added that it can be harder to be aggressive on the road than at home, but it’s critical that the Canadiens don’t back off in yet another elimination game.
Will Dustin Tokarski keep his team competitive?
Tokarski, the virtually unknown third-string goalie who was inserted into the Montreal net when Canadiens starter Carey Price went down, hasn’t been all that good through four playoff games (2-2, 0.902 save percentage). But he’s been just good enough to keep the Habs alive.
The 24-year-old is a crucial question mark for the Canadiens and will continue to be the centre of attention for however long he stays in the starting job.
Rene Bourque, who has had a difficult tenure in Montreal, was the unlikely hero in Game 5 with a hat trick in the Canadiens’ 7-4 win. Alex Galchenyuk (we profiled him here) had two points in that contest and has taken on tough assignments since returning from injury. Dale Weise, who is questionable for Game 6, has seven points over the course of the playoffs, one of a dozen players to record at least that many. Meanwhile the always underappreciated Mike Weaver leads the team with a plus-eight rating.
Montreal has created this playoff run largely on the backs of players who have been able to contribute a surprising amount given their histories; they’ll need more surprises to extend this series.
Canadiens 4, Rangers 3
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report; follow him on Twitter for more of his work.
Statistics courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.