Another Saturday, another Hockey Night in Canada, this time involving two teams coming off disappointing losses against the Ottawa Senators. The New York Rangers played at Canadian Tire Centre Friday night and got beat down 4-1 while the Montreal Canadiens lost in overtime on Wednesday.
For yours truly, the games against the Blueshirts are the most important ones of the season considering the fact that my best friend back in Sweden is a huge Rangers (and Henrik Lundqvist) supporter. A Montreal defeat would effectively mean that I would have to shut off my phone for at least the next 24 hours.
After playing the last six games, Brett Kulak was once again placed as a healthy scratch, with Mike Reilly taking his place on the third defensive pairing. Claude Julien also chose to switch lines on Jordan Weal and Charles Hudon, with Hudon getting a chance on the third line next to Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
On the other side, head coach Dan Quinn chose to start Alexandar Georgiev in net and reinstated Micheal Haley as a replacement for Tim Gettinger on the fourth line.
The guests from New York started the game on fire, creating several scoring chances during the very first minute of play. That combined with a body check on Tomas Tatar by Chris Kreider made Carey Price stop the play just so his team could get a breather.
The Habs shook the poor defensive start off and did so in the best way possible. The second line, consisting of Artturi Lehkonen, Nick Suzuki, and Max Domi, established pressure around the net. Lehkonen’s attempt on goal got deflected up in the air, with Suzuki waiting for it next to the net. With his quick vision he found Domi in the crease, and the line’s centreman scored his first goal since October 31.
Reportedly, Quinn had called his team’s effort against the Senators “abysmal” and admitted that the Rangers struggle when they get a bad start to a game. If that is the case, it is most unfortunate to concede the first goal of the game after just two minutes, especially considering their positive opening to the game.
A minute later, Jacob Trouba got called for hooking in the defensive zone and Montreal went on the man advantage. Hudon and Suzuki combined for a few handsome cross-ice efforts, but to no result on the scoresheet.
Right around the midpoint of the first period, Brendan Lemieux misplaced the puck in the neutral zone, creating a two-on-one for the home squad. Joel Armia found countryman Lehkonen, who immediately placed the puck on net after skating over the offensive blue line. The shot did not look unobtainable for Georgiev in net but floated in above his glove through a screen to create a two-score lead for Montreal.
Getting such an advantage early in a game can sometimes produce a sense of complacency. It was therefore encouraging to see that the Habs did not take a step back but continued to go forward and tried to suffocate what hope the Rangers had left.
With 33 seconds to go, the lingering pressure resulted in a third goal as Ben Chiarot broke up a clearance and handed it over to Domi, who instantly found Suzuki moving in over the blue line. Suzuki saw an opportunity to leave possession back to Domi when the latter surged in from neutral ice. Number 13 shot hard and high, and with considerable traffic in front of the net, Georgiev could do nothing to stop it. Montreal entered the first break with a healthy 3-0 lead and Domi had his first multi-goal game of the season.
The Rangers got an early opportunity to decrease their deficit but Price got the better of Jesper Fast on the two-on-one. Meanwhile, Georgiev continued to struggle on the other side of the ice. During a delayed penalty call, Montreal established themselves in the New York zone. From the point, Chiarot served Shea Weber, and a slapshot later Les Canadiens were up four with less than 23 minutes played.
When Trouba went to the box for the second time of the night, an argument could be held that this was a possibility to put the final nail in the opponents’ coffin. Instead, a shocking turn of events was about to unfold. With the Rangers getting back to five-on-five and the Habs taking an uncoordinated line change, Artemiy Panarin found Filip Chytil with a sublime pass across the ice. Chytil found the space between Price’s arm and body and got his team on the board.
Less than a minute later, Montreal was unable to pick up Pavel Buchnevich as he entered the crease with possession. Price saved the effort but somehow it hit Cale Fleury’s skate and slowly moved across the line. Twenty-two seconds after Buchnevich’s goal to make it 4-2, Phillip Danault took a holding penalty in mid-ice, giving New York their first power play of the night. Just as the penalty was deemed finished, Adam Fox shot along the ice and Lemieux was in the right place to tuck it in. What had been a four-goal advantage three-and-a-half minutes earlier had all of a sudden become a fragile one-score lead.
To make matters worse, the energized Rangers got more power-play opportunities handed to them. Jeff Petry received a minor for holding, and just as the penalty kill seemed to do everything right, Chiarot misplaced a clearance and had to join Petry in the box for delay of game. Thankfully, the madness stopped for a moment and the wounded Canadiens were able to remain composed to not only kill off the 33 seconds while two men down, but also the minute-and-a-half that was left of Chiarot’s sentence.
A frustrating period ended with Trouba getting to spend yet another two minutes on the sidelines, this time for hooking Lehkonen just as a fortunate bounce meant that he had a free lane towards Georgiev. It was a situation that, on another day with different referees, very well could have resulted in a Habs penalty shot rather than yet another unsuccessful power play.
Four minutes into the third there was a faceoff in the Rangers’ zone. After losing the inital puck drop, Suzuki moved down behind the goal and stressed Tony DeAngelo to clear the puck along the boards. Domi read the defender’s intentions and got possession. He looked up and found Lehkonen in the slot, and seconds later Montreal once again had a multi-goal lead.
Did this mean that the game was finally in the bag? No sir. The Rangers immediately battled back and Panarin put one past Price from a short distance less than a minute later.
Panarin was charged with an interference penalty not long afterward. Solid pressure from the Habs on the power play culminated in an awkward bounce off a Brendan Gallagher shot that Suzuki tried to corral in mid-air, but instead saw the guests race away with the puck on a two-on-one short-handed breakaway. Brett Howden found Lemieux to the left and we had a tied game.
What was already awful would become even worse. Trouba, who up until that point had made a bigger mark in the penalty box than on the ice, shot from the blue line what should have been a routine save for Price. This, however, was not a routine night. The puck found its way through some traffic in front and between the netminder’s arm and body, and the Rangers had come back from being down 4-0 to lead the game with less than eight minutes left.
Montreal had chances to tie it. A last power play occurred when the Rangers had too many men on the ice. Julien also removed Price for an extra attacker with 2.27 to go, but the porous Georgiev turned into a brick wall.
A perplexing and above all frustrating turn of events saw Montreal lose 6-5. This was the Habs’ fourth straight loss, though two of them have come after overtime. Next up during this home stay at the Bell Centre will be the Boston Bruins, on Tuesday night.
Now I am going to turn off my phone and scream into a pillow.