NEW YORK – The Rangers had a chance to make this a quick Eastern Conference final. Instead, perhaps it will be anything but.
Really, with these cardiac kids on Broadway, would you expect anything different?
After Montreal took a one-goal lead with 3:02 remaining in the third period, New York tied the game with 28.1 seconds left when the puck deflected off Alexei Emelin’s skate and past Dustin Tokarski (35 saves), sending Madison Square Garden into delirium.
But 72 seconds into the first overtime, Tomas Plekanec sent the puck towards the crease, and watched as it deflected off the body of Alex Galchenyuk, past Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for a 3-2 Canadiens win.
The Rangers lead the best-of-seven series, 2-1.
The loss wasn’t from lack of effort by the Rangers. They dominated the puck-possession battle, out-shooting the Canadiens 37-25, and out-attempting them, 75-53. Tokarski was equal to the task, giving Montreal a chance to even the series at 2 games apiece back at the Garden on Sunday.
“We all saw the same thing the same way, with the kid’s background,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien of his goaltender. “The way that he played for us this year, only a few times, we knew the kid was a winner. To be a winner, you need to be a battler, and this is exactly what again he shows tonight.”
“He has great composure for a young guy,” said Habs forward Brian Gionta of Tokarski, forced into action due to Carey Price’s lower-body injury suffered during Game 1. “It’s a tough situation for him to step into, and he has handled it extremely well.”
“For the most part I thought we played a good game and we had some real good looks,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “We had the opportunities to take the lead in the game and we didn’t. Give credit. Their team played hard and their goaltender played well.”
These are the playoffs. Playing well doesn’t count for much unless you win. Instead of taking a 3-games-to-0 stranglehold on the series, the Rangers just missed putting their opponent on the precipice.
“We’re not going to get any gimme’s, you gotta go earn them,” said Rangers forward Martin St. Louis. “We just didn’t get by [Tokarski] enough times.”
“In the playoffs especially, it’s about winning and finding a way to win,” said Lundqvist, who made 22 saves in the loss. “As much as you can take the good parts, you don’t want to pat yourself on the back too much, because we lost a game. We have to be better. We have to find a way to win the next one. You take the good parts about this game and build on them for the next one.”
Of Montreal’s three goals, two came off a bouncing puck in front. In fact, during the first three games of this series, only two of their goals haven’t come on a net-mouth scramble. That’s of little consolation for the Rangers.
“We’ll be shocked here tonight, but obviously we won’t have any let-down for the next game,” said McDonagh. “It’s a new series, and we feel like we want to get back to playing the strength of our game.”
Frankly, as good an opportunity as the Rangers had on Thursday — as badly as they outplayed Montreal, well, that’s how Game 2 looked. Montreal outplayed the Rangers in Bell Centre, only to watch Henrik Lundqvist steal the game out from under their fingertips. Thursday, the roles were reversed. So, a series where the Rangers have outplayed the Habs in two of three games shows as such on the scoreboard.
“This is a good team. They just beat Boston,” St. Louis said of the Habs. “We’re up 2-1 in the series, and we play a home game on Sunday. We still got a great opportunity to do something great.”
Early in the first period, Derek Stepan took a late hit to the upper body from Canadiens forward Brandon Prust. While Stepan had to be ushered to the locker room, he returned to the game mid-way through the first, and later told reporters he was uninjured. Prust was not penalized. The play will be looked at by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
Dan Carcillo was assessed a game misconduct 5:51 into the first for abuse of officials, after he tried pushing himself away from linesman Scott Driscoll, who was trying to pull the agitator away from a scrum. Carcillo could be facing a lengthy suspension.
The Rangers are a perfect 22-for-22 on the penalty kill in their last eight games, their longest such streak in the postseason since 1940.
INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM: