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Canadiens vs Rangers 2014 playoffs Game 4 preview

After finally cracking the Rangers for a Game 3 win, can the Habs make it two and tie the series?

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

In Game 2 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final, the Montreal Canadiens dominated the New York Rangers. They spent the night in the Rangers end, peppering Henrik Lundvist with shot after shot. In his first NHL game of significance, Dustin Tokarski gave the Habs the type of largely mistake-free hockey that was necessary after superstar Carey Price went down. Sadly, none of this mattered, as three Ranger goals spelled the end for a snake-bitten Canadiens team.

From the puck-drop of Game 3, it was clear that things were going to be different. The Rangers stomped the Habs for the first 20 minutes of play at Madison Square Garden, as Tokarski was forced to go from solid to spectacular to keep the Canadiens' hopes alive. Thankfully, for the second game in a row, the result of the contest did not align with the flow of its play. Now, the Canadiens have a second chance in a series that appeared to be quickly escaping their grasp.

If they're to even their series this evening, the Canadiens will need, first and foremost, the continued contributions of their young keeper. The expectation should revert to Game 2 status, as the Habs don't need their ostensible third stringer to play like the goalie he's replacing. Calm, solid, and error-free are adjectives of choice. Of course, if he wants to mix in one or two of these again, the Canadiens fan-base probably wouldn't object:

Assuming that the Habs continue to be empowered, and not undermined, by their goaltending situation, the Habs most pressing area of focus should be their forwards, who were more or less dominated by the Rangers on Thursday. Outside of the still-humming GDP line, the only Canadiens' forward to manage positive possession numbers was Brandon Prust, who won't play this evening.

The answer to Scott's question is almost certainly yes, at least to the extent that both teams will likely improve. In terms of actual hockey accomplishments (so injuring one his best opponents aside), Prust had his best game of the series in Game 3. That said, it's almost certain that Michael Bournival, the man likely to draw in for the next games while Prust is suspended, is an upgrade.

The Blueshirts, meanwhile, face a confounding roster crunch with their best centre now unavailable. The timing of his injury will be eased somewhat by the coincidental return of Derick Brassard, but this is a net loss for a New York relying on a few weapons to do the bulk of their scoring.  Martin St. Louis has had no difficulty razing the Canadiens' defenses for consistent scoring chances, but for players like Rick Nash, or Carl Hagelin (who was extremely visible in Game 3), the pressure to create for themselves is amplified. As would be true for the Habs, losing their number one centre leaves a hard-to-fill hole in the middle of the Rangers lineup. On the plus side, though, at least Stephane Quintal's ruling gives Alain Vigneault a built-in excuse not to play Dan Carcillo anymore.

The Rangers and Habs, through three games, have shown themselves to be evenly-matched. Tonight, after winning a game they didn't deserve, it's time for the Habs to again show that they deserve to win.