Rangers a win away from Stanley Cup finals
- Associated Press
- May 26, 2014 - 7:35 PM
MONTREAL — When other parts of their game are sputtering, the New York Rangers have two key assets to fall back on — penalty killing and goaltending.
It's a combo that has put them within one victory of their first Stanley Cup final in 20 years. And it has frustrated the Montreal Canadiens, who must win Game 5 Tuesday at the Bell Centre to stave off elimination.
Against the Rangers, the Canadiens are 1 for 17 with the man advantage.
Montreal's lone power-play goal came Sunday night in a 3-2 overtime loss at Madison Square Garden. That P.K. Subban blast from the point, however, was tempered by a short-handed goal by Carl Hagelin that opened the scoring.
The Canadiens' power play went 1 for 8 on a night when the Rangers spent 14½ minutes or almost 22 percent of the game a man short.
"Give credit to our killers and our goaltender," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "They did a real good job."
That is nothing new. Before Subban's goal, the Rangers had killed off 27 straight penalties. New York is 37 for 39 (95 percent) on the penalty kill in its past 12 games
"We had the opportunity on the power play but we didn't take advantage of it," Montreal coach Michel Therrien. "Yes, we scored a goal. It was a tying goal, but we gave up one, and that was the story of the game. I thought our power play had to be better."
The Rangers' go-to forward pairing on the penalty kill is Hagelin and Brian Boyle. Hagelin uses his speed while Boyle's resume reads "big body, blocks shots, good on faceoffs," according to Vigneault.
Boyle can also pass a bit, finding Hagelin on a pass deep from the New York end. Hagelin broke in alone, faked a shot and tucked a backhand between the legs of Dustin Tokarski at 7:18 for his sixth goal of the playoffs. It was the Rangers' first short-handed goal in 70 playoff games, dating to 2008.
The New York penalty kill is smart and sleek. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist has worked hard on his puck handling and his defenders are positioned well.
"I think our guys do a good job whether it be on the forecheck coming back in the right positions and trying to create those battles where you've a chance to make a couple plays and get it out," Vigneault said. "When we don't, (our) goaltender stops the puck."
In four games, Montreal has seven goals on 107 shots.
While Tokarski has won kudos for his play in stepping in for the injured Carey Price, Lundqvist's playoffs numbers are sparkling — a .931 save percentage and 1.98 goals-against average.
The Canadiens are going to need Tokarski to continue to play well if they want to extend their season.
"It's no secret: you start doing the right things, you start getting rewarded for it and momentum builds," captain Brian Gionta said. "You keep carrying that.
"A couple of teams have been able to do that this year, the Kings and the Rangers. So it's not something that can't be done and with the group we have in here, we believe we can do it. And we believe we've got better as the series goes on."
Gionta and Tomas Plekanec were part of a Canadiens team that came back from a 3-1 deficit to upset the Washington Capitals en route to their previous trip to the conference final in 2010.
And they remain without Price, the Canadian gold medalist from the Sochi Olympics in February who suffered a possible right knee injury when New York's Chris Kreider crashed the net in the second period of the series opener.
Price skated for about 20 minutes without equipment before the team's optional practice, but Therrien said he will not be back in this series.
For Gionta, hope comes from a feeling that his team is getting better and still has time to turn things around, as they did when they fell behind 3-2 to the Bruins in the conference semifinal.
The Canadiens rebounded with their best game of the playoffs in Game 6 and closed it out in Boston two days later.
"We were able to wear (Boston's) defense down with our speed and forechecking," he said. "We need to get better at that and I think that's what we've gotten better at as (the New York series) went on.
"Try to take advantage of their defensemen down low, try to spend some time in the offensive zone, and start to make breakdowns and make things happen that way. Our backs are against the wall. It's win or go home. I would expect the same kind of effort as we had against Boston for sure."
Beating Lundqvist three straight times will be tough. He has 41 career playoff wins, tying him with Mike Richter for the most in Rangers history. His counterpart, Tokarski has played all of 13 NHL games — 10 in the regular season and three in the playoffs.
Lundqvist picked up an assist on Derick Brassard's second-period goal, his first in 85 postseason games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first Rangers goaltender to record a playoff assist since Richter on May 11, 1997.
The Rangers have allowed two goals or fewer in 13 of their 18 playoff games, including six of the past seven games.
One question for the Rangers will be whether Derek Stepan can return from his broken jaw in Game 3. Over the weekend, he dropped by the arena to see his teammates before returning home to recuperate from surgery.
Martin St. Louis is on a roll for the Rangers. His overtime winner Sunday extended his point streak to six games. He leads the Rangers with 13 points in these playoffs.
NOTE: The Rangers are 12-1 when they lead a playoff series 3-1.
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