Canadiens winger Rene Bourque watches as his hat-trick goal gets behind Rangers backup goalie Cam Talbot during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final at the Bell Centre on Tuesday.
Photograph by: Allen McInnis, THE GAZETTE
There's playoff hockey — the tight-checking, goal-pinching, palm-dampening, heart-pounding stuff that tests your cardiac health and makes you wonder why your team bothers playing 82 NHL games in regular-season slush.
And then, there's the guilty-pleasure, exhibition free-for-all stuff of sloppy and loose play, training-camp timing, sometimes dubious goaltending and piles of goals, a puck in the net with seemingly every third shot.
With the Canadiens' entire season riding on Tuesday's game against the New York Rangers, a berserk Bell Centre crowd paid buckets of money to watch the latter, a blend of ball hockey, broomball, probably croquet and heaven knows what else.
It was many things, but playoff hockey was not among them. And those fans who watched might all be happily scarred for life.
To say nothing of the coaches who witnessed this unnatural disaster unfold and might not sleep for days because they did.
"A gong show," was how Rangers defenceman Dan Girardi put it.
"It was, to say the least, a strange game," said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault.
Well, here's the bottom line, the smoke not yet having cleared:
The Canadiens defeated the Rangers 7-4 in the goofiest playoff game you're likely to see, a slobberknocker that pushes the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final back to New York Thursday with the Blueshirts holding a 3-2 lead.
(Is this a good time to say that it wouldn't be unprecedented for the Canadiens to engineer a complete comeback from a 3-1 series deficit? They've done it twice in 14 series, in 2004 against Boston and 2010 against Washington.)
The Canadiens staved off elimination for the third time this postseason, twice beating Boston while one game from summer, and now the Rangers.
It rained many caps for Rene Bourque, the unilingual anglophone whose hat-trick has made him so popular in Quebec that, what the heck, he's now René Bourque.
The native of Lac La Biche, Alta., the author of five playoff goals this season, added three more in a wildly entertaining contest whose tapes will be burned by coaches.
A 2-1 first-period Canadiens lead would be 5-4 at the end of 40 minutes. Montreal piled up a 4-1 lead before throwing it all away, the Rangers scoring three unanswered goals to suck the life out of the arena.
But Montreal was up by one by period's end, then scored two more in the rollicking third, Bourque completing his hat trick — a natural Canadiens hat, scoring his three in succession — and David Desharnais hitting a vacated Rangers net.
This wasn't the best of nights for any of the three goaltenders who felt like ducks in a shooting gallery, despite the fact the Canadiens outshot their visitors just 28-27.
The Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist, statistically the best of any NHL goalie this playoff season, lasted just less than half the game, beaten four times on 18 shots for a save percentage of .778 before he was replaced by Cam Talbot, who gave up two on nine shots.
In Montreal's net, Dustin Tokarski was both superman and pedestrian, making an interstellar, diving save on Carl Hagelin on a first-period 2-on-1, then being beaten shortly on a very stoppable shot by Derek Stepan. Tokarski finished the night at .852, making a handful of fine stops along the way.
Tempers ultimately flared, Rangers defenceman John Moore nearly tearing the head off Montreal forward Dale Weise in the neutral zone with an elbow midway through the third, thrown out of the game with a major penalty.
Weise clearly was separated from his faculties, helped rubber-legged off the ice, but Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said that after a visit to the Habs' "quiet room," doctors cleared him to return.
Therrien said the right call was made on the ice to toss Moore, and Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said the contact was late.
Moore almost surely will be suspended for this cheap shot, which will enrage Rangers fans. They'll seethe, but they should save their energy because the Habs' Brandon Prust, Public Enemy No. 1 in New York since he was suspended for two matches after breaking Derek Stepan's jaw in Game 3, will be back in the Montreal lineup for Game 6 at Madison Square Garden.
A very unplayofflike 51 penalty minutes were called, 37 to the Canadiens; that total is a little skewed since Bourque took a five-minute cross-checking major and a 10-minute misconduct at the end of the game.
NHL Player Safety Director Stéphane Quintal might also be busy reviewing a Derek Dorsett head butt of Habs defenceman Mike Weaver and Bourque's subsequent cross-check of Dorsett.
While no one expected an orgy of goals and the stream of bodies to the penalty box, there has been very little predictable about this series.
Not from the Nerf darts thrown at each other by two head coaches who are great friends; to a pair of suspensions, dealt to Prust for his hit of Stepan and New York's Daniel Carcillo for abuse of an official; to a young, untested goaltender named Tokarski, being thrust into a spotlight in which he has generally looked quite at home.
And not right up to and including the perhaps surprising in-equipment workout pregame Tuesday of Carey Price, the man for whom Tokarski stood in, injured midway through Game 1 when he was crashed by Chris Kreider.
Price won't be back this series, Therrien said earlier in the day, though no one noticed if the coach's fingers were crossed.
Before the game, Lundqvist said he knew the desperation that gripped the Canadiens, not that the Rangers goalie was losing sleep about it.
"I don't think about what's going on in their dressing room. I don't care, either. I'm focused on my game and our game, that's it," he said.
"We believe in each other. We believe we have a good team and that we can do good things. They're a good team and they're going to be a desperate team. It's going to be a loud building. Let's go out and enjoy it.
"We know what we have to do."
So did the Canadiens, apparently, in game that was one for the books. The comic books, but whatever.
And so now it's back to New York, the headquarters of Marvel Entertainment.
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