When I started this article series, I had hoped to write significantly more than the six that are arrayed before you. A more comprehensive look at the matchups and trends of the series as a whole will be coming some time during the week. Until then, let us see off the final game of the 2016-17 Montreal Canadiens’ season.
Staying true to form
This game, much like the rest of the series, featured the Canadiens jumping out of the gate and the Rangers counter-punching in the second period. The first period of Game 6 was superior to even that of Game 5 in terms of shot pressure (compare the sizes of the peaks below), shot attempts for (27 vs. 19), and scoring chances for (16 vs. 7). Once again, this tremendous effort resulted in the Canadiens entering the locker room one goal to the good.
The inevitable Ranger pushback began almost immediately from the drop of the puck to start the second frame, but was relatively tame at even strength. Instead, the gut-punch came when Mats Zuccarello tied the game with the first Ranger PP goal of the series. Although there was certainly a sense of inevitably within the fanbase, the Habs managed to stabilize and apply more pressure on Henrik Lundqvist up to the midpoint of the second period, taking the 5v5 shot attempt differential from +11 at the time of the goal to a peak of +18.
Live by the grinder, die by the grinder
With 6:54 left in the second period, following a Ranger heavy shift but immediately after a TV timeout, Claude Julien put his fourth line of Dwight King - Steve Ott – Michael McCarron on the ice with his third pairing of Brandon Davidson and Jordie Benn for a defensive zone faceoff to the right of Carey Price. Alain Vigneault countered with J.T. Miller – Kevin Hayes – Zuccarello and Brady Skjei – Brendan Smith.
Hayes won the faceoff and the Canadiens never gained possession of the puck again until Carey Price fished it out of his own net.
To this point, the fourth line had been superb, allowing only two Ranger shot attempts and generating six. But despite Ott’s faceoff prowess, that was the wrong set of personnel for Julien to place on the ice, especially with the entire bench at his disposal and without last change. For the majority of the game, Alain Vigneault didn’t play the match up game: the Montreal fourth line played mostly against the Ranger fourth line of Michael Grabner - Oscar Lindberg – Jesper Fast (4:46 of 8:16, 57.7%) and the third line of Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Pavel Buchnevich (2:18, 27.8%). Here, he deployed the hot hand when opportunity presented itself. This shift was one of only two that the Hayes line played against the Ott line, but it helped seal the series for the Rangers.
The Canadiens had no extra gear
Down by a goal and with 20 minutes left to save their season, the Montreal Canadiens mustered effectively nothing. Unsurprisingly, the Habs won the Corsi battle in the third period of Game 6, but the 16 CF events they generated was the lowest of any period in Game 6. Only six forced Lundqvist into a save. Despite whatever emotions supposedly evoked by desperation, the Canadiens only mustered 8 scoring chances – half of what they achieved in the first period. With Carey Price out for an extra attacker, Max Pacioretty – Alex Galchenyuk – Alexander Radulov – Artturi Lehkonen – Andrei Markov – Shea Weber recorded a single shot attempt over the 1:19 prior to the empty netter which sealed the Canadiens’ fate: it was blocked.
All she wrote
Ultimately, there wasn’t much to say about Game 6 because there was nothing in it that we hadn’t seen before. While the Canadiens entered the series as favourites, they stepped onto the Madison Square Garden ice as distinct underdogs fighting for their lives. For 20 minutes, the Canadiens demonstrated the energy and resoluteness expected from a team in their situation. But once Zuccarello put the Rangers ahead, the Canadiens appeared more concerned with not giving up a third than scoring a second. This game demonstrated that in order to succeed, more than anything, the Canadiens need to shed their mental aversion to risk. A team facing their last period with the best goaltender in the world needs to generate more than six shots on net. Qui audet adipiscitur – who dares, wins.