By now, Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final is in the can, and we all know what happened. But it was clear, from the very first shift, that the Montreal Canadiens were on a mission to best the New York Rangers on their own ice.
The Canadiens came out in the first period with only four shots (three of them being from Max Pacioretty), and this was no way to win a hockey game. Already, social media had the Habs down three games, even though the next two periods were yet to be played. This is what happens when a team performs below expectation, and that’s what the Habs were doing. Four shots on goal in a period is not just stunning, but unexpected from the team that had just eliminated the Boston Bruins.
Still, ye of little faith, as the results bear out, they beat the odds against them in this game, as well as in this already-disappointing series.
From the next two periods, as well as the overtime game-winning goal by Alex Galchenyuk, the Canadiens were stellar tonight. They played with the speed and urgency needed to win this crucial game. But none was as bright as Dustin Tokarski. The choice of this rookie goalie, brought in not to back up a backup goalie due to an injury, but to become the goalie for the series, got a lot of raised eyebrows from the masses. And yet, he came up big in Game 2 despite the loss, and huge in Game 3.
It was a team effort. Even when a deafening silence fell over already-celebrating Habs fans as (who else?) Chris Kreider scored to tie the game in the final 30 seconds, the Canadiens stepped it up. No matter who is to “blame” (because it seems there always has to be a scapegoat), it’s about believing in one’s team. And that goes for the team players themselves, as well as fans.
I’ve wondered — with undying faith — if this Canadiens team has what it takes to beat these very fast, very skilled, very goalie-strong Rangers. Tonight, I got my answer: a resounding yes.
With more of the same, it will not be an easy game on Sunday night, but time and time again, in the regular season and now in playoffs, the Canadiens are proving that they have the strength, the perseverance and the impressive talent to perhaps do what many have deemed impossible.
Watch for Tokarski to rise in the ranks. He is now a full-fledged member who has earned his place as a playoff goalie on an extremely tenacious team. And Habs fans couldn’t be more thrilled as their confidence level grows along with his.