By Steve Silverman
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There is an easy way and a difficult way to do things.
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the New York Rangers have chosen the difficult way to handle the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Rangers won the first two games of the series at the Bell Center in Montreal and then came home to Madison Square Garden to face the Carey Price-less Habs with a chance to take a stranglehold on the series.
The Rangers nearly accomplished that goal. They came out firing in the first period Thursday and were nearly as dominant in the second period. However, the score was only 1-1 after 40 minutes of play because 24-year-old Dustin Tokarski refused to be cowed by the situation he faced as Price’s replacement. At the same time, Henrik Lundqvist had allowed a stoppable shot from Andrei Markov to blow by him on the short side early in the second period.
The found a way to steal Game 2 in Montreal because Lundqvist had a King-like performance. The Habs did the same thing in Game 3 thanks to Tokarski.
Montreal apparently got the break it needed when Daniel Briere got credited with a goal that went in off of Ryan McDonagh’s skate late in the third period. The Rangers, however, received a similar break in the final minute and made the most of it.
A centering passes caromed off Alexei Emelin’s skate and past Tokarski, and the Garden faithful went ballistic.
It seems that the clock had struck midnight for Tokarski, and the Rangers would find a way to win the game in overtime.
But, fate was not smiling on the Garden on Thursday night. Early in sudden death, Tomas Plekanec drifted down the left side until he spotted an opening and then he fired shot at Lundqvist’s far pad. The puck bounced up, deflected off of 20-year-old Alex Galchenyuk and into the net for the game-winner.
Montreal, which was down an Olympic gold medal-winning goalie, and nearly devoid of all momentum, had won Game 3 and climbed back into the series.
Such is the nature of the great sport of hockey during the spectacle of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Rangers had everything going for them, including the best goalie on the planet showing why. The Habs were forced to go at it with an inexperienced 24-year-old.
Somehow, Montreal came out on top. With two full days off until Game 4 on Sunday night, the Rangers and Habs have a lot to think about.
It’s not going to be pleasant for the Rangers, who you have to figure believe they should be looking to close out the series Sunday night. Instead, they have been left with the thoughts about the one that got away.
Suspensions for both teams will be an issue. Daniel Carcillo of the Rangers was thrown out of Game 3 after he elbowed linesman Scott Driscoll. While there did not appear to be any intent on Carcillo’s part to hurt Driscoll, he was automatically suspended 10 games for making contact with an official.
Montreal’s Brandon Prust was suspended two games for his blindside hit on Derek Stepan. While the hit was not penalized, Prust had a phone hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety to explain his actions and learn his fate. Stepan suffered a broken jaw and was to have surgery Friday evening.
Give full marks to Montreal head coach Michel Therrien. He somehow got his team to believe that it had a real chance to beat Lundqvist with Tokarski in net and get back into the series.
On its face, that was a ridiculous premise. First, Tokarski had to show that he could fill in adequately for Price. Then, he had to show he could match Lundqvist save for save.
How could anyone who knows anything about hockey actually believe that was a logical scenario that could play out that way, let alone a coach like Therrien, who has spent his entire adult life in the game?
But that’s what happened in Game 3.
Could it happen again in a fashion that somehow results in the Canadiens winning this series?
Tokarski might be a decent prospect, and he could play one more good game, but it’s hard to imagine him outdueling Lundqvist again.
Even if Tokarski does steal another game, it would only delay the inevitable. The Rangers will get to the Stanley Cup finals.
Nothing has really changed in this series except the mathematics. The Rangers have clearly been the better team in this series.
Thursday’s loss is uncomfortable for the fans, but reality hasn’t changed. In a series that undoubtedly is coming down to goaltending, it’s Tokarski against Lundqvist.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy
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