In his return to Madison Square Garden former Ranger Brandon Prust had an assist, two shots on goal and was a +2 in a game that saw Montreal win their fifth straight game for the first time since 2011 and move into first place overall in the Eastern Conference. Talk about a homecoming don’t you think? With a home record of 6-2-1 this season Madison Square Garden has been one of the more scarier places to play but for a Canadiens team that has had success against the Rangers lately and their red-hot play as of late this was set to be a battle.
In the opening frame with how much pressure New York put on the Habs it was a surprise to see the Rangers with just five shots on goal. However when you flip the coin it was not so surprising to see Montreal tally just three shots on Rangers tender Henrik Lundqvist. Yes Montreal did play last night and yes Montreal did get into New York at an unenviable time but can that really be a valid excuse? It was the boys in blue who came out skating and out competing the Canadiens with Montreal resembling a welcome mat for the Rangers to walk all over. A total of three shots is inexcusable at any level and a better effort is expected from a team that has been playing exceptionally well as of late.
After the referee raised his arm signalling a Canadiens infraction it only took roughly five seconds for Anton Stralman to take a few hacks before he finally beat Price for his second goal of the year. Now this goal could have been prevented had Erik Cole not stopped skating and picked up his man. I guess that text message to his teammates meant as much as the Canadian penny nowadays. It was not just Cole but all the Canadiens players seemingly just stopped competing once the referee raised his hand and when you do that you deserve what you get. Assists credited to Stepan (5) and Hagelin (4). All seemed to be lost for Montreal in the second period as that goal did not appear to wake them up but were fortunate enough to head to the dressing room with the score all squared up at one. With a desperate slap shot from the point that found its way through, Max Pacioretty scored his second goal in as many games giving the Canadiens life with 1:15 remaining in the period. Assists on the play went to Gorges (2) and Desharnais (4). Could a game tying goal late in the second be enough to spark this Canadiens team?
I have stressed so many times and will continue to do so and that is the first and final five minutes of a period are where teams are the most vulnerable and Montreal has been able exploit that lately including tonight. In fact a former Ranger would make it all happen with Brandon Prust shovelling a back hand pass through a sprawling Ranger defender where not one but two Canadiens were waiting in Galchenyuk and Eller. With the Twitter world celebrating for Lars Eller (though he did record an assist on the play) it was actually Galchenyuk getting his stick on the puck and redirecting it past Lundqvist for his second of the campaign. All of a sudden in a matter of just 3:03 seconds the Canadiens turned what appeared to be a long game into a late 2-1 lead. Now of course there is always a balance and like he had done earlier in their winning streak Plekanec had taken a penalty late in the game swaying momentum and stealing breath from Habs fans everywhere. The Rangers would soon pull Lundqvist to give them a six on four advantage and after escaping a few close calls defenseman Raphael Diaz cleared the puck from deep in the corner with the puck finding its way into the opposing cage giving Diaz his first goal of the year (shorthanded marker). We as Habs fans could breathe then and only then.
Overall, this game should have been decided by not only a much higher score but also a different winner. Reasons for this not happening? Well look no further than their star in goal Carey Price. Stopping 24 of 25 shots and making key saves throughout the game paved the way for his teammates to compete and ultimately leave MSG with a big two points. For New York it’s not like the effort wasn’t there as all but two players recorded a shot on goal and outplayed Montreal for the first half of the game but had to settle for a heartbreaking loss in their own barn. With this win the Canadiens will now set their sights on the New York Islanders who have struggled mightily with a record of 6-9-1 and have lost two straight. If the Canadiens are to continue their winning ways they will need to learn from tonight’s game and come out with a higher compete level when they face the Islanders at home this Thursday.
GO HABS GO