Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers: Biggest Takeaways from Game 6
There is joy in Gotham as the New York Rangers are headed to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years.
The Rangers played their best game of the Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens, and that was enough to bring them a 1-0 victory on their home ice. When the final seconds ticked off the clock and Henrik Lundqvist had his playoff shutout, the Rangers eliminated the Habs in six games.
The Rangers attacked the Canadiens with speed and precision throughout Game 6. That they were held to one goal is a tribute to the effort and talent of Michel Therrien's Canadiens, who played a solid game in defeat.
Here are the key takeaways from Game 6 of the Montreal-New York series.
Relentless Rangers Rally Behind Moore's Goal
By the time the Rangers left Montreal Tuesday night, their regrettable effort in Game 5 had been put in the past.
The only thing on their collective minds was the effort they would put forth in Game 6 back on their home ice at Madison Square Garden.
New York attacked the Canadiens with speed and precision throughout the game, and as the game reached the latter stages of the second period, they were dominating much of the action.
The Rangers were outshooting and outskating the Canadiens, but the game was still scoreless. It seemed the Habs were going to have a chance to steal the game and bring it back to the Bell Center for a decisive seventh game.
But then it happened. The Rangers continued to put pressure on Montreal's short-handed defense, and Ryan McDonagh sent a pass behind the goal line to Brian Boyle. The big forward received the puck cleanly, and he spotted Dominic Moore streaking into the low slot.
Boyle slid the puck to the tape of Moore's stick, and the best goal-scoring opportunity of the game presented itself. Moore had his head up, saw the opening to the right of Montreal goaltender Dustin Tokarski and fired the puck into the back of the net.
That goal at the 18:07 mark of the second period proved to be the only time the red goal light would be turned on. Moore's goal sent the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final, where they will play the powerhouse Los Angeles Kings or the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Lundqvist Bounces Back with Clinching Shutout
Henrik Lundqvist has long been considered one of the elite goalies in the NHL. However, his performance in Game 5 against the Montreal Canadiens was poor.
Lundqvist was beaten four times in Montreal's 7-4 victory before the game had reached the midway point, and he was pulled by head coach Alain Vigneault. While longtime Rangers watchers were not concerned about Lundqvist's ability to bounce back, the goalie himself had endured a difficult 48 hours between Games 5 and 6.
“It’s been tough,” Lundqvist told Larry Brooks of the New York Post. “You think a lot. Going into the playoffs we talked about how it’s a roller-coaster mentally. You have so many highs and you have a few lows where you are questioning a lot of things.”
Lundqvist bounced back in Game 6 with the ninth postseason shutout of his career. He stopped 18 shots, and while that number was not overwhelming, the Habs had a chance to take the lead in the second period a few minutes before Moore's decisive goal.
Thomas Vanek drove the net for the Canadiens, and he attempted to throw a pass to the front of the net. However, that pass deflected off of Dan Girardi and was on its way toward the net. It had nearly crossed the goal line, but Lundqvist swung his blocker at the last instant and got a piece of the puck to keep the Canadiens from taking the lead.
It's the kind of signature save that helped Lundqvist earn his first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in his illustrious career.
Rookie Goalie Tokarski Proves Therrien Right
It seemed the Montreal Canadiens were doomed when Carey Price injured his right leg in Game 1 and word filtered out that he would not be able to play in the rest of the Eastern Conference Final.
The Canadiens were expected to turn to backup goalie Peter Budaj, but head coach Michel Therrien made the decision to bypass the veteran netminder and turn to 24-year-old rookie Dustin Tokarski.
It was a huge gamble, but Therrien saw something he liked in Tokarski.
Therrien described Tokarski as a winner, and he said that he had confidence Tokarski would give a superb account of himself against New York.
Despite Therrien's bravado, few thought the Habs had a chance to compete in the series without the redoubtable Price in goal.
Tokarski went out and played like a star. He won an overtime thriller in Game 3 and came through with several strong saves in the third period in Game 5 to backstop the Habs to their second victory in the series.
He was at his best in Game 6, stopping 31 of 32 shots on goal. The only way he could have stopped Moore's game-winning goal is if the Rangers center had shot the puck directly at him. There is no way Tokarski could be faulted for that goal.
He was superb in the series and finished the postseason with a 2.60 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. He appears to have an excellent future in the NHL after playing so well under the high-pressure circumstances of the Eastern Conference Final.
Subban, Pacioretty Held in Check
The Montreal Canadiens pushed hard in Game 6 as they attempted to win at Madison Square Garden so they could get the series back to Montreal for a decisive seventh game.
While the Habs played with the kind of effort one would expect from them in an elimination game, they were unable to force the action much of the night. They had to react to the Rangers' determined and aggressive play, and they rarely dictated play themselves.
If the Canadiens were going to win on the road, they needed defenseman P.K. Subban and high-scoring left wing Max Pacioretty to assert themselves. Subban registered four shots on goal and was on the ice for more than 27 minutes, but he could never break free to blast a puck by Lundqvist.
Pacioretty had three shots on goal, but he was not the aggressive, dominant forward who scored a goal and an assist in the Habs' Game 5 victory.
The Canadiens needed their big guns to come through in Game 6, but they were unable to do so and their season came to an end.
Rangers Save Their Best for Last
There's a tendency for the team that takes the lead into the third period of a Stanley Cup playoff game to eschew their offense and concentrate on stopping their opponent in the final 20 minutes.
This strategy is often a dubious one, as the team with the lead often sits back in its own zone and subjects its goaltender to a slew of opposition shots. This often leads to regret once the game is over.
The Rangers were not about to fall victim to this strategy. While they did not score in the third period, they dictated the pace throughout the final 20 minutes and outshot the Habs 13-5. Two of those Montreal shots came in the final 1:53 after the Habs had pulled Tokarski, but the Rangers dominated puck possession.
The Rangers were led by aggressive defensemen Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman and Marc Staal. They set the tone by bottling up the Canadiens and then joining the attack whenever they had the chance. The Rangers forwards also did a relentless job of forechecking and backchecking.
“We felt pretty good out there and felt really confident in our game,” Girardi told Zach Braziller of the New York Post. “We really showed it down there in the third period. We played our type of hockey and gave them nothing.”
The Rangers played the final period without an iota of regret, and they rewarded themselves by winning the series and earning a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.