After three games, the New York Rangers hold a 2-1 series lead over the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference finals. New York jumped out to a quick 2-0 series lead taking both games in Montreal and out-scoring the Canadiens by a wide margin of 10-3 but Montreal responded with a game three overtime victory in Madison Square Garden.
When Carey Price went down to a knee injury and did not return for the third period in game one, the hearts of Habs fans sank to the floor. When the news came out that Price would not be available to play for the remainder of the series, the Habs were almost immediately counted out of the series. It’s not every day you lose your star player, let alone your star goalie, and overcome the odds. The Canadiens would need heroics from either Peter Budaj or 24-year-old Dustin Tokarski, who was only tested twice during the regular season.
In game two, Tokarski saw his first action in NHL playoff hockey. A game two, Eastern Conference finals and in front of 21,000+ screaming Habs fans — no pressure, kid. Although the Habs suffered a 3-1 defeat, Michel Therrien saw something in Tokarski that most could not see past the clunky goal given at the end of the first period. With Budaj sitting on the bench, it was a bold move to start an untested Tokarski in game two but it was a gutsy move to play him once more in game three.
One had to believe it would take Tokarski to stand on his head in order for the Canadiens to defeat the Rangers. Out-matched in almost every category on the ice, including their meat and potatoes in the speed department, the Canadiens solid structure of defensive layering and neutral zone clogging looked dismantled and disorganized. Even if the Canadiens managed to break into the offensive zone and fire a shot, the Rangers had Lundqvist to back them up.
Dustin Tokarski, in for the rescue. A 36-save performance by the youngster backed a Canadiens victory in game three. The Rangers took a 1-0 lead in the first period after Carl Hagelin fired a shot that was stopped at first by the glove of Josh Gorges. However the puck lobbied in the air for a moment and then dropped behind Gorges and into the net, leaving a helpless Tokarski to look on and watch the Blueshirts celebrate their first period lead. After the first period, it was all Rangers. 14-4 the shots favored New York, their overwhelming speed and collapse in the offensive zone kept Montreal pinned for entire shifts.
In the second period, the Habs found room to breathe but not much as the Rangers continued to pour on pressure. It wasn’t until Andrei Markov struck early off a pass by Max Pacioretty, who found Markov pinching in the slot, that the Habs would score. The Canadiens took the tie game into the third when veteran Daniel Briere put the Habs ahead. The goal was — as most of the Habs goals were this series — a stroke of pure luck, thanks most in part to Ryan McDonagh for his skate pushing the puck into the net. With the Habs up 2-1 and Lundqvist pulled, the Habs were able to hold off the Rangers…
Until the 19:31 mark when Chris Kreider got his own lucky break, managing to knock a puck off of Alexei Emelin’s skate and behind Dustin Tokarski, tying it up at 2. With the MSG crowd roaring and the Rangers breathing new life, overtime could not come fast enough.
Habs Take Game 3 in OT
It also couldn’t end quick enough. 1:12 into the extra frame, Tomas Plekanec fired the puck on net and had it ricochet off of Alex Galchenyuk and behind Henrik Lundqvist to seal game three. In just his second game back since returning from a knee injury, Galchenyuk notched his first tally of the post-season and celebrated with the rest of the team.
With the series lead now cut down to one, has this win sparked new life into a seemingly uninterested Montreal Canadiens team or will the New York Rangers put this behind them and rally back to get back to their winning ways? Game four takes place on Sunday night at MSG.
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