Canadiens players celebrate Andrei Markov’s second-period goal in front of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist last night at Madison Square Garden.
Photograph by: Al Bello, Getty Images
NEW YORK — It's unlikely that the Canadiens heard the wonderful ballad that escorted a stunned Madison Square Garden crowd into the night near 11:30 p.m. Thursday.
But the Habs indeed were in a New York state of mind, that the title of the Billy Joel classic that played through an emptying arena.
Alex Galchenyuk's delicate deflection of a Tomas Plekanec shot 1:12 into overtime lifted the Canadiens to an improbable, bizarre, thoroughly unthinkable 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers.
The best-of-seven series now stands at 2-1 in favour of the Rangers, with Game 4 set for Sunday at 8 p.m. ET, back at Madison Square Garden.
Galchenyuk's pretty tip past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist capped an exciting end to a game that the Canadiens — let's be honest — had no business winning.
For about 15 minutes, the epitaph of their 2013-14 season was in danger of being carved by the right skate blade of defenceman Alexei Emelin.
But the Habs are alive to play another day, and they're in pretty decent shape, all things considered.
Their task could have been herculean. Had they lost Thursday and been down 3-0, Montreal would have had to win four straight, every one of those games high-pressure elimination matches, two of them on MSG ice.
But that's why they play the games, even when a dramatic victory on their taped sticks evaporates with less than half a minute to play.
There would have been no wiggle room. No margin for error. Barely room to breathe.
There is now.
If the Canadiens had lost and didn't then achieve the miraculous comeback, the sight of a pass, desperately thrown at the Habs net by nemesis Chris Kreider and caroming in off Emelin's skate with 29 seconds left in Game 3, would have haunted the team's fans at least until the puck drops on meaningful hockey next October.
Outshot, outchanced, outplayed, it was the late goal by a proven playoff performer that made the impossible seem possible.
Daniel Brière again proved his reputation as a big-time postseason talent, stuffing a loose puck behind Lundqvist with 3:02 left in regulation.
It came off a rush that saw Rene Bourque pound a shot off Lundqvist's pad, then Thomas Vanek fire wide on the rebound, then the resourceful Brière shovel it into the Rangers goal after having dug it out from behind their net.
But then, with Lundqvist pulled for a sixth attacker and the Rangers swarming Montreal goalie Dustin Tokarski, Kreider's pass from the half-wall to the Montreal crease clipped the skate of Emelin and tied the game 2-2.
How many times have you heard coach Michel Therrien or his players speak of the work of goalie Carey Price, now nursing an injured knee, saying: "He gave us a chance to win"?
The rookie Tokarski did precisely that, and then a whole lot more, making 35 saves in a glittering performance that Habs fans should salt away and savour for a good, long time.
Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty said over and over Wednesday and the morning of Game 3 that his team had to "take away his eyes," in reference to Lundqvist.
To wit, screen the star netminder. Back into him, get him rattled, make his life a living hell.
The Habs did none of those things in the first period. In fact, they barely took away Lundqvist's slumber, brutally outshot 14-4.
Pacioretty did his part, taking three of those shots, firing the team's first at 34 seconds. There wasn't another until 8:37, when Brière got off a harmless wrister from the half-wall.
Pacioretty had the Canadiens' best chance, a nifty one-timer on a pass from Brendan Gallagher that Lundqvist slid across to smother.
Tokarski, meanwhile, did all he could to give his team that proverbial chance, and he was blameless on both Rangers goals.
That was a comedy of errors — a tragicomedy if you're a Habs fan in this theatre town — that began with defenceman P.K. Subban fanning on a puck at the New York blue line.
Away to the 2-on-1 races went Carl Hagelin with Martin St. Louis, defenceman Josh Gorges making a nice glove save on St. Louis's attempt. Regrettably, Gorges also barrelled into Tokarski, wiping out his own goalie, and Hagelin batted home the floating puck to put the Rangers on top.
The first period threatened to get out of control with a late hit by Montreal's Brandon Prust of Rangers' Derek Stepan, who remained down for a short time and retired to the dressing room; he would soon return.
Of course, that led to the fun that followed, Rangers' Daniel Carcillo taking Prust into the end boards from behind, called for boarding. But New York's Derek Dorsett wanted his pound of Prust flesh and bit off more than he could chew, ragdolled by the Canadiens forward in a rare playoff fight.
Carcillo might have pushed a linesman in the melee and was thrown out of the game.
And then — why not? — the badly outplayed Canadiens tied it 3:20 into the second on their sixth shot of the game, Andrei Markov taking a lovely cross-ice pass from Pacioretty to fool a slumbering Lundqvist through the legs, the defenceman's first goal of the playoffs.
That set the stage for Kreider's heartbreaker, and Galchenyuk's winner.
It takes just a throat to be cleared too loudly at this point in the postseason to ruffle someone's feathers. And that's what happened on Monday, following the Rangers' 3-1 victory in Game 2, when Subban's benign remarks about Lundqvist were massaged into "them's fightin' words," as the legendary Yosemite Sam would say.
"Is (Lundqvist) playing well? Yes, but some of it is luck," Subban told reporters after Lundqvist's 40-save performance.
To say that a hot goalie is, in part, lucky, is to speak one of hockey's most obvious truths. What amount of iron did the Boston Bruins hit behind Price in the semifinals? Thirteen goalposts and crossbars?
Of course Price was lucky to have won his game of inches. But being lucky is also to be good; it's about being in position when the deflection hits you in the shoulder or ricochets off your mask or pinballs off a few skates before you smother it.
On Thursday, Tokarski was good.
No, he was fantastic, and he was lucky, and he has given his team a breath of life when none seemed possible.
Unbelievable. In every way imaginable.
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