Lest anyone doubt that the Montreal Canadiens came home to the Bell Centre ready to fight for another chance or two, they put those doubts to rest tonight.
The Habs won Game 5, their first elimination game of this series and their third time on the brink in these playoffs, with a handy seven-goal night, including a hat trick by unlikely hero Rene Bourque. Rookie goalie Dustin Tokarski, once again showing why he is a story in this series, was everywhere he needed to be. The goals he let in were forgiven as he continued to make the big saves.
We’ve all heard about motivation, fight, confidence and belief, and we’ve all heard those terms used about these Canadiens not just in the playoffs, but in this round alone. It’s hard to truly push away the thought that perhaps it is about more than just scoring goals. To be clear, goal scoring has been the biggest monkey on the team’s back. Even losing star goalie Carey Price in Game 1, their biggest problem was hitting the back of the net. It seemed the usual suspects weren’t showing up to play.
That all changed in Game 5. Facing a dreaded end to their season, the team came out driven right in the first period. Fans who were already holding their collective breath were able to breathe when Alex Galchenyuk scored the first goal before the first two minutes were played.
But the Habs lost a three-goal lead when the New York Rangers tied the game at four, and suddenly the air was out of everyone’s sails. It helped when the Canadiens scored a fifth, and the third period was when the momentum turned and this game became an emotional triumph.
Whoever said emotions don’t win hockey games? It’s been worrisome to watch a team that is so filled with talent be unable to tilt the scoreboard in their favor. It has been frustrating to see players not taking shots, not getting goals, just seemingly getting lost against a team that was dominating them on the ice as well as on the scoreboard.
That momentum changed tonight, and it is very likely to remain on a high through the next game. The Habs go into New York City for Game 6, a place where the fans are almost as loud as Montreal fans and almost as emotionally invested as Montreal fans. But the pressure remains on the Rangers, who showed their frustration easily with skirmishes and undisciplined play. Sure, the Habs had their share of penalties, but the Rangers just looked like their emotions were taking them in the wrong direction.
The Canadiens roll into New York with relief, elation, but also knowing they have a still-uphill battle. It’s clear that kind of motivation fires them up. It showed when they won two in a row against the Boston Bruins, and it showed tonight when they played with determination, desperation and energy. Perhaps knowing they chased Henrik Lundqvist from the game is extra motivation.
All along, the Canadiens have stayed on an even keel, not celebrating or bemoaning the highs and lows too much. That’s important, because they are focused. Of course, it has to be mentioned that a three-goal lead disappeared all too quickly and that they cannot afford to let that happen again. Is it ironic that they won by a three-goal margin? Perhaps. They can take that with them.
There’s no question this series has been a roller coaster emotionally. This game alone was a ping-pong match of highs and lows (mostly for Habs fans), and it will have to be repeated again Thursday night if they are going to bring it back to the ice at home. Suddenly, though, that “impossible climb” is just a little less steep. The spectre of coming back to win after being down 3-1 in their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins has to be haunting the New York team as they watch their lead narrow to one game.
And that very same vision has to be shining just a little brighter for the Canadiens who, despite a tall order, are already one game closer to their dream of going to the Stanley Cup Finals.