Canadiens goalie Dustin Tokarski (35) reacts as Martin St. Louis's game-winning shot sails high over Tokarski's shoulder in overtime. Tokarski played as well as Price would have in this game, but was scored on because the Rangers were given too many breakaway attempts.
Photograph by: Kathy Willens, The Associated Press
There was so much talk in the interminable, 72-hour break between Games 3 and 4 of this Stanley Cup series that it was easy to forget this is not the Chat Olympics.
Is Chris Kreider the Evil Reincarnation of Milan Lucic?
Does Alain Vigneault employ spies?
Did Brandon Prust intend to break Derek Stepan’s jaw?
Is Dan Carcillo a conventional, everyday kind of idiot or is he a world-class idiot, on a par with Brad Marchand?
Pity, because all the nattering between games has tended to eclipse the fact there is some rather outstanding hockey being played here. Fast. Tough. Exciting. Worth the price of admission, which given the cost of playoff tickets in the 21st century, is saying a mouthful.
Long before the broken play that broke Montreal hearts Sunday night, with an exhausted Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin and David Desharnais unable to clear the zone in the first overtime period before a wide-open Martin St. Louis scored the winner, this was a terrific game.
Even if it doesn’t seem so to the losing side. The Canadiens aren’t done, but they’re down 3-1 coming back to Montreal for Game 5 on Tuesday night and they face a daunting, uphill struggle.
If the side issues sometimes seem to detract from the hockey, blame the NHL. Better still, blame NBC for a bizarre playoff schedule that had the Canadiens and the Rangers playing one game in five days between Game 2 in Montreal and Game 4 in New York.
Like naughty children with too much time on their hands, those involved will get into all kinds of mischief when they’re left with nothing real to focus on for that long.
Once you get back to the hockey, you can say with some confidence that the Rangers and Canadiens are two very good, very fast teams. They’re also more than tough enough: The Rangers took out the Flyers, after all, and the Canadiens eliminated the Bruins.
Beyond that, this is a flip-a-coin series even now, with the Canadiens trailing by two games. The teams are that well-matched. Not on paper, where you would give a huge edge to Henrik Lundqvist over Carey Price’s replacement, Dustin Tokarski.
But you don’t play the games on paper and on the ice, where it matters, Tokarski has been as good as you could have expected Price to be in this series.
So from there you go to the stars who are supposed to get it done. Like P.K. Subban. Look, there are lots of places I wouldn’t want to be on the ice in a playoff game. If you had to pick the very last place on the ice you want to hang out, it would be between P.K. Subban and the goaltender as Subban wound up that big slapshot.
But that’s where Brendan Gallagher found himself. Check that: That’s where Gallagher put himself because Gallagher has a magnetic attraction to the tough places on the ice. The places where people with normal pain tolerance don’t want to be.
So here is Gallagher, providing a screen between Subban and Lundqvist when Subban launches. The tying goal, two minutes into the third period, was credited to Subban as of this writing, although I thought it deflected off some portion of Gallagher’s anatomy and/or equipment.
Whatever, it made the score 2-2 on a night when the Canadiens had enough power plays to make it 10-2.
Eight power plays. One goal. If the Habs have reason to kick themselves this morning, it’s for that. Convert just one more time with the man advantage and there would have been no overtime, no exhausted defensive pair out there before the deciding goal.
Sometime between now and a Game 5 that could send them to the golf course, the Canadiens also have to find a way to stop these late-period goals. It happened again Sunday night, when the Canadiens had survived the initial onslaught, fallen behind by a goal, tied it on a laser from that noted sniper, Francis Bouillon, and were more than hanging in with rookie Tokarski matching King Lundqvist save for save.
Then they screwed up a change on defence, left Tokarski completely exposed, and let Derick Brassard put you in a hole with one of those late-period back-breakers.
Subban got that one back. On a night when he logged 33:16 in ice time, Subban was a little bit of everything, from the goat on Carl Hagelin’s short-handed goal that gave the Rangers the initial advantage to the hero on the tying goal.
Overall, Subban has been outplayed in this series by Ryan McDonagh, but as he has so often in his career, Subban came up with the heroics that would eventually send it to overtime, where Montreal had one more opportunity to win it on the power play when Benoît Pouliot was caught holding Subban’s stick.
It wasn’t to be.
Mercifully, the yapping should be very much limited during this break, because the two teams will be back on the ice at the Bell Centre on Tuesday. And if Therrien has any spies he can employ, perhaps he can use them to figure out why the Rangers keep scoring late-period goals.
And how to avoid leaving Tokarski completely exposed, as he was too many times in New York.
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