After blowing a 3-1 lead in the third period of game one and winning it in overtime, then blowing a 3-1 lead in the third period of game two and losing it in regulation, the Montreal Canadiens had to find a way to keep a lead if they were going to win this series. With an electric crowd at their backs, and Ginette Reno belting out yet another spectacular anthem, they found a way.
Going into game three, Michel Therrien made several adjustments to his lineup, chief among them was taking Thomas Vanek off of the line with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty, and putting him with Tomas Plekanec and Michael Bournival. That change ended up creating the first goal for the Canadiens, with P.K. Subban deftly taking a puck off the boards and passing it behind his back to Vanek, who everyone thought was going to fire it on net, only to hit Plekanec with a gorgeous slap pass for an easy backdoor goal.
With Montreal ratcheting up the pressure, P.K. Subban laid a huge open ice hit on Reilly Smith, and was called for roughing. While it's true that Subban got his arm up on Smith, it was still at chest level, and while an elbowing call would have been a palatable missed call from referee Tim Peel, a roughing call for an open ice hit seems like he was looking for an excuse to call something.
Taking the brunt of the hit though, was Thomas Vanek, who missed the rest of the period. Meanwhile the Canadiens held the Bruins without a shot on the penalty kill, and as the two minutes wound down, Lars Eller lugged the puck out of the Habs' zone, and found an open Subban for a breakaway. Making no mistake, Subban deked out Tuukka Rask and put the Habs up 2-0, with the Bell Centre nearly exploding with noise.
With play relatively even in the second period, it would once again be Montreal that broke through, with Mike Weaver blocking a shot that banked right to Daniel Briere, and recognizing the developing play, Dale Weise split the Bruins defense and skated up the ice. Briere hit him with the pass, and Weise beat Rask fivehole to give the Habs a three goal lead.
The three goal gap wouldn't last long however, as Patrice Bergeron made a perfect, beautiful tip on a Torey Krug shot that just evaded Carey Price and got the Bruins back in the game. For a third straight game, the Canadiens would have a 3-1 lead in the third period.
Holding the Bruins to just seven unblocked shot attempts in the third period, it took Boston until the 17:44 mark in the third period to strike and finally put the Habs on their heels, but the comeback wouldn't happen this time. With Rask on the bench, Lars Eller outbattled Milan Lucic for the puck, and chipped it past the Bruins defense, giving himself a clean breakaway on the empty net, icing the game at 4-2, giving Montreal a 2-1 series lead.
If there's anyone in the NHL who exemplifies strength in the face of adversity in these playoffs better than P.K. Subban, I'd like to know who they are.
After his two goal performance in game one, including the game winner in double overtime, beer containers were thrown at him on the ice, thousands of racist taunts were sent to him on social media, including at least one picture of a noose with the caption "tied this for Subban". It was disgusting, exactly the kind of stuff you never want to see. That day Subban didn't meet with media, but in the following game he made his statement on the ice, putting two perfect slap passes on the tape for Thomas Vanek to set up two tip-in goals.
After that game, he made his official statement, pushing the incident aside eloquently and maturely. And once again in game three, Subban made his presence felt. He was the first star of the game, the most dominant player on the ice, and exhilarating to watch whenever he was near the puck.
With three goals and three assists in this series, Subban now has 11 points in seven playoff games in 2014. He is far and away the leader in the Conn Smythe race at this early stage, and his response when asked about his play in the playoffs so far?
"I can be better"
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