After defeating the Boston Bruins in what was an epic seven-game series, the Montreal Canadiens find themselves in a less-than-ideal situation against the New York Rangers in Round 3. They have been outscored 10-3 through the first two games, lost their starting goaltender and are ultimately facing two must-win scenarios in Game 3 and 4 at Madison Square Garden.
Habs Nation has not thrown in the towel just yet, though. The Canadiens are not ready to adopt the Toronto Maple Leafs’ all-too-famous “there’s always next year” slogan. This team has fought tooth and nail to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, and they still have something to prove before all is said and done.
Prior to Game 2, Montreal learned they will be without Carey Price for the remainder of the third round. It was news the Canadiens did not want to hear. Frustration boiled over as fans took to social media to voice their dissatisfaction on an injury that was arguably preventable. Coach Michel Therrien accused Rangers’ Chris Kreider of being reckless. Canadiens forward Brandon Prust did the same.
But there was no point crying over spilt milk. Montreal could not change the circumstance they were in heading into Monday night’s game. All they could do was put in their best effort with the players they had, and they did just that in Game 2.
The Habs came out of the gates Monday with guns blazing, ready to even up the series. However, an early goal by Max Pacioretty was quickly countered within seconds by Rangers defenseman and former Canadiens prospect Ryan McDonagh. The “Blueshirts” did not look back from there, scoring three unanswered goals to win the game 3-1 and take a commanding 2-0 series lead.
Heading into Thursday night’s encounter, Montreal has one of two choices. They can either feel bad for themselves for the situation their team is in, or put the past behind them and continue to believe they can still pull this off.
There is some difficulty in finding any sort of positive after losing the first two games at home, but the Canadiens did a lot of the right things in Game 2; things that win hockey games. Montreal controlled the pace of the game, moved the puck well, generated quality scoring chances and dominated puck possession.
The reason the Habs find themselves in an 0-2 hole is not because Price did not play. It was because Henrik Lundqvist did. Running into a hot goaltender can be incredibly frustrating for any team. It was for the Bruins in Round 2, and it has been so far for the Canadiens this round.
However, the Habs can take comfort in knowing they beat the Rangers everywhere but the scoreboard in the second game. The scoreboard is the one that matters, but luck can change on a dime in the “coolest game on ice,” and it’s within the realm of possibility that the momentum shifts in Montreal’s favor in the third game.
To win Game 3, the Canadiens will have to continue to put pressure on Lundqvist. It is difficult to beat a world-class goaltender without traffic in front of the net. Driving the net whenever possible, setting screens and capitalizing on rebounds are all things Montreal will need to do to have success against the Rangers’ star goaltender.
One of the concerns heading into Thursday night is the lack of intensity shown by some players. There have been a fair number of passengers for the Canadiens in this postseason. Players who you would normally expect to step up have not had the drive or will needed to excel at this time of year. The Habs are going to need everyone on board if they’re to have any chance of getting back in this series.
Therrien has made some interesting changes to the forward lines for Game 3, but the defensive pairings are expected to remain the same. Dustin Tokarski will get the nod in goal.
Pacioretty – Desharnais – Gallagher
Galchenyuk – Plekanec – Gionta
Bourque – Eller – Weise
Prust – Brière – Vanek
Markov – Emelin
Gorges – Subban
Beaulieu – Weaver