NEW YORK — In this city of world-class theatre and filmmaking and its wash of neon, in the relentless energy that quickens the pulse and the stars you expect to bump into on every street corner, you somehow knew we’d come to a playoff hockey series and showbiz would break out.
For the second time in as many games, the Canadiens and New York Rangers decided to play more than 60 minutes Sunday night.
But this time the Rangers held the dagger. And this time, they have put the Canadiens on the brink of elimination.
Martin St. Louis whipped a wonderful shot over the left shoulder of Habs goalie Dustin Tokarski at 6:02 of overtime, giving the Rangers a 3-2 victory and perhaps a vise-grip 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference final.
Canadiens fans are living in morbid fear once again, home-ice elimination looming for the second consecutive series with Game 5 at the Bell Centre on Tuesday.
You’ll find the Habs’ inept power play at the bottom line of Sunday’s loss, Montreal scoring once on eight occasions with the man advantage. They’re an awful 1-for-17 this series.
If there’s any poetic justice in this sport, it’s that St. Louis scored the winner. In the second period, the quite terrific Tokarski robbed the wee winger with one of the most spectacular glove saves you’ll see. But that stop will be consigned to a short video clip, St. Louis’s superbly picked corner, a snipe of the highest order by a gifted goal-scorer, the shining light.
How close did the Canadiens come to tying this series? Habs fans might see for a painfully long time Alex Galchenyuk’s dying-minutes bullet shot strike the crossbar behind Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and carom down to the goal-line, six ounces of rubber choosing to bounce out instead of in.
Ultimately, St. Louis’s overtime winner was a magnificent display of talent in a series that has been a slapfest of charge and countercharge off the ice, a few of them sublime, many more ridiculous.
Perhaps craziest of all has been the nonsense about espionage. It’s only fitting, then, that four blocks east and 20 blocks north of Madison Square Garden is 485 Madison Ave., the Manhattan headquarters of MAD Magazine and, thus, the birthplace of forever-feuding Spy vs. Spy.
The black-and-white cartoon antagonists, created by Antonio Prohías for the New York-based satire magazine a half-century ago, would have been proud of the Canadiens and Rangers on Saturday, their cloak-and-dagger routine providing delicious if nonsensical content on a practice day when news should have been watery gruel.
There never was any kind of “gentleman’s agreement” between the cartoon spies, with White Spy, or the Canadiens (based on their road jersey here), apparently enjoying a slim edge in the lifetime win column against Black Spy, i.e., the dark-jerseyed Rangers.
According to the Canadiens, the Rangers on Saturday definitely were the bad spy (choose your colour), Habs head coach Michel Therrien having New York assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson, video coach Jerry Dineen and travel secretary Alex Case evicted from an early-afternoon Habs practice at MSG.
The cloak grew darker when the Rangers said they knew nothing about any such “gentleman’s agreement,” as Therrien put it.
Furthermore, the Rangers said, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin did not beforehand mention any no-spying handshake to Rangers GM Glen Sather. Had the Rangers known about such an unwritten pact, the team said, they would have respected it.
“My staff and my coaching staff were under the impression that there is a gentleman’s agreement,” Therrien said after his team’s game-day morning skate on Sunday. “So probably there was a miscommunication. I don’t talk to coaches. This is (a) thing the GM talks about. But from our standpoint, we still believe that there is a gentleman’s agreement.”
At the microphone an hour earlier, Vigneault was speaking in the opposite direction by 180 degrees.
“We were treated very unfairly (Saturday),” he said. “There is no rule. There was no agreement between both teams ... What happened was uncalled for. Without a doubt, my staff handled it with a lot of class, just like our team: play whistle to whistle, don’t get involved with the other stuff.
“We’re very credible. This is the National Hockey League and (with) that type of behaviour, we’re lucky it didn’t escalate.”
Escalate? Pardon? Are we on the brink of war, with fingers twitching over missile-launch buttons, or playing hockey?
Therrien’s game-day news briefing lasted 10 minutes in English and French, but it was solid gold, the coach killing it in what was indisputably his best such briefing as coach of the Habs.
In the shadow of Broadway, Therrien had taken his show on the road Sunday, a one-man play in a single act; he was relaxed, hilarious, laughing often, sparring a bit, engaging, even a little provocative.
He might be in not so jovial a mood when he addresses the media in Montreal on Monday.
Inconveniently, there was real news heading into Game 4.
Rangers centre Derek Stepan was home from hospital, having had surgery Friday to repair a jaw fractured early in Game 3 by a crushing open-ice check that drew a two-game suspension for Canadiens forward Brandon Prust.
New York’s Derick Brassard, injured upper-body by a Mike Weaver hit in Game 1, returned to the lineup after two games out, scoring New York’s second goal on rare breakaway slap shot. But even his imminent return slipped into more Vigneault kookiness.
On Saturday, Therrien said in French: “We expect Derick Brassard to play and we know exactly where he’s injured. Hockey is a small world.”
Vigneault seemed to view that as a threat, or a bounty, or something, and on Sunday he said: “Let’s put it this way: I hope nothing happens to Brass, the player, (or) Michel could be in trouble.”
Therrien, choosing not to hire a bodyguard, returned that volley:
“I was saying the same thing that we said about Carey Price, that (the Rangers) knew before we knew his injuries,” he said of the Habs goalie injured in Game 1, crashed by Rangers’ Chris Kreider.
“In the hockey world, it’s a small world. We knew exactly what happened to Derick Brassard. And by the way, he’s a good player. He’s an important player.
“There is no free pass. We’re in the playoffs. But the intention is not to hurt the guy. I mean, come on. … There is no hockey coach going to ask to hurt the player.”
At 8 p.m. Sunday, the Canadiens and Rangers, as cagey and hissy as two stray cats fighting over scraps in the same garbage pail, skated onto the MSG rink. Imagine: a hockey game decided on a sheet of ice. What a novel concept.
For a time, behind the microphones, the hockey circus at Madison Square Garden had been the greatest show on Earth.
But there can be no more talk for the Canadiens. You clam up, you prepare, and you leave nothing on the ice Tuesday.
You win and you force this to Thursday’s Game 6 back in the City That Never Sleeps. Or you lose and you pack up until training camp.
There’s nothing at all showbiz about that.
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