lundi 26 mai 2014

Montreal vs New York : St. Louis strikes in OT as Rangers push Canadiens to brink #habs #rangers #playoffs #hockey

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 One of the things about playing in New York is that it can feel a little bit like playing in Los Angeles, Max Pacioretty was saying, deep inside Madison Square Garden on Sunday. The plethora of famous people with good seats can be intimidating: "In warm-ups, I feel like I know half the people in the stands."

Robert De Niro and Michael J. Fox had tickets to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final last week. And Harry Belafonte, the 87-year-old singer, was in the arena on Sunday night as the Canadiens faced the New York Rangers in Game 4.

"I think it kind of is an intimidating building," Pacioretty said. "But at the same time, it's not like Montreal, where they're going to jump all over you."

Nothing is like Montreal, especially not in the playoffs, and especially not with the home team within two games of another long-awaited trip to the Stanley Cup finals. Playing in the Bell Centre under those conditions would be intimidating, and difficult, and precisely why the Rangers had to win at home on Sunday.

And so they got what they needed early in the overtime period, when Martin St. Louis walked in from the faceoff circle to beat Dustin Tokarski with a clean shot. New York earned the 3-2 win, and
the commanding series lead.

"You get this far and you have to trust yourself," St. Louis said. "That's what I try to do, and I was fortunate."

Montreal is still not without hope. Rallying from a 3-1 series deficit is normally not easy, but this has not been a normal post-season for rallies. The Rangers roared back from a 3-1 deficit to oust the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round, and the Los Angeles Kings were down 3-0 to the San Jose Sharks before ripping off four straight wins.

"By no means are we counting ourselves out," said Canadiens captain Brian Gionta. "It's a tough loss, it's a bitter loss. But at the end of the day, we are still in this series. I still like our chances with two games at home."

Rangers forward Brad Richards said: "We have to realize the longer it goes, the more life and more belief they get. So it's going to be a very important start in the next game."

So much of the series has been about managing pressure. The coaches have been batting the burden back and forth like a ping pong ball: Blaming a linesman for a suspension, or each other for real or perceived breaches in etiquette.

They had two days to do it between games, too. The talk swirling so swiftly, it actually started to seem plausible that a player with a broken jaw would appear in uniform two days after undergoing surgery. Rangers forward Derek Stepan suffered the injury after absorbing a late hit from Brandon Prust in Game 3 — and in the end, neither played on Sunday. (Prust was serving the first of his two-game suspension.) The Rangers were also without Dan Carcillo, who earned a 10-game suspension for his wrestling match with a linesman after that collision. Importantly, though, New York did welcome Derick Brassard back to the lineup, after missing him for two games.

His goal gave New York a 2-1 lead heading into the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie just at the point when it seemed like Tokarski was positioning himself to steal another game for the Canadiens. The 24-year-old rookie did it in Game 3, and was poised on Sunday.

He made a blocker stop with St. Louis on a partial break in the first, and made one of the finest glove saves of the playoffs in the second period. St. Louis looked to the roof after that save, looking first for a replay, and then, possibly, for patience.

The Rangers had done their best to apply a different kind of pressure on Tokarski. It was more of the literal kind, with players driving hard to his crease, sometimes not bothering to stop. Rick Nash bowled him over, and during a break in play, Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien told NBC: "We gotta make sure we're protecting the goalie."

They had not been offering him much support. The Canadiens went without a goal on the first five power-play attempts of the game. And it was worse than that — the Rangers got a jump after a defensive zone faceoff while short-handed in the first period, with forward Brian Boyle spotting Carl Hagelin racing free up the middle. Hagelin scored.

Francis Bouillon scored in the second, only to have Brassard break that tie with a blast from point-blank range. The Canadiens pulled level again in the third period, when P.K. Subban finally connected on the power play, with a signature slap shot from the point to quiet the crowd and tighten the nerves on the home team's bench.

They rattled to the sound of a crossbar with three minutes to play in the third, when Alex Galchenyuk ripped a shot past Henrik Lundqvist. It bounced off the line and away from danger, temporarily.
St. Louis delivered them from danger completely six minutes into overtime. The group of Canadiens players on the ice looked exhausted, and had three chances to clear the zone in that final sequence. Each attempt was more feeble than the one previous one, and Hagelin spurred the endgame by slipping a pass to St. Louis.

The 38-year-old winger had been left wide open on the far side. St. Louis walked toward the bottom of the faceoff circle, picked a spot on the short side above Tokarski's shoulder and fired, sending the Rangers to within a game of the Stanley Cup final.