By Steve Silverman
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Throw Game 5 right out the window.
The NHL won’t do it because it’s already in the books and Montreal’s 7-4 victory drew the Canadiens within hailing distance of the Rangers. When the two teams take the ice Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, the Habs will have a chance to square the series and send it back to Bell Centre for a decisive Game 7.
That could happen, but don’t think for a second that the head-shaking performance of Henrik Lundqvist in Game 5 will have anything to do with it. Yes, the King was brutal in Montreal, and the first-period goal he gave up to Tomas Plekanec was awful. But that performance is over.
There is no way that the Rangers are going to let their first-round victory over the Philadelphia Flyers and their second-round comeback over the Pittsburgh Penguins go to waste.
If the Canadiens are going to force a Game 7, they are going to have to overcome New York’s best performance of the postseason.
We will start off with one big assumption: Lundqvist is going to be at his best back in the Garden. The only chance the Canadiens will have of beating him is on screened shots, deflections or rebounds. Anything that Lundqvist can see, he will stop.
That’s the way he has played throughout his career, and a bad game like the one he had Tuesday night is likely to result in a top-of-the-line performance the next time out.
However, the Rangers are not going to have to depend on their goalie to bail them out this time. They have been finding the range offensively, and they have a crew of leaders who appear ready to take over against Montreal.
Derek Stepan and Rick Nash are ready to come through at the most important time. Stepan returned from the busted jaw he received at the hands of Brandon Prust and scored two goals that got the Rangers back in Game 5. Nash also scored a goal, and instead of floating around the perimeter throughout the game, he actually ventured near the blue paint and Montreal rookie goalie Dustin Tokarski when the game was on the line.
Nash’s hard work and effort nearly paid off in a tying goal in the third period, but Tokarski kept him from getting on the scoreboard for a second time in the game.
Nash has scored three goals in the series and is nearly at the point where he is a threat every time he has the puck. That’s a far cry from the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh series, when Nash was invisible most nights despite his size, strength and and skating ability.
The Canadiens are going to have to figure out a way to stop what has shockingly become a dangerous offensive team.
Yes, these are the New York Rangers we are talking about. In past years, the idea was that they would score one or two goals in a playoff game and hope that Lundqvist could make that insignificant offensive production stand up.
That’s not what’s going on now. Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Ryan McDonagh, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin are all capable of making big plays and joining Stepan and Nash in the scoring column.
If you think about it, the Canadiens are going to be in for a tough time unless they find a way to handle New York’s versatile offense. The Habs can’t worry about St. Louis or Richards; they have to find a way to slow down all of the Rangers.
The Habs have performed admirably since Carey Price went down with his right-leg injury in Game 1. Tokarski has performed quite well in Price’s absence, and has risen above expectations.
But he is not the second coming of Price, and even though Montreal head coach Michel Therrien has tried to label Tokarski as a “winner,” he has not proven anything yet.
The money is on the table in Game 6, and Tokarski was quite shaky in Game 5. No matter what Therrien says publicly about his goalie, this rookie is going to have to play the game of his life to slow down the suddenly dangerous Rangers offense.
Look for the Rangers to push the pace with their offense and end the Habs’ season in Game 6.
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