The Montreal Canadiens did not have Carey Price to tend goal in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final Monday night at the Bell Centre, but the Rangers most definitely had their ace between the pipes, and Henrik Lundqvist was a major reason the Rangers skated to a 2-0 series lead with a 3-1 road victory. Lundqvist made 40 saves in Game Two for the Rangers, who have now won five straight games in the playoffs dating to Game Five of the second round against Pittsburgh.
"We are trying right now to inspire each other, and personally for me it's a lot of fun to be out there, it's exciting, it's pressure, but it's a chance to grab on to an opportunity," Lundqvist said after the game. "My goal here is to leave it all out there. In the end will it be enough? We'll see. But you don't want to sit at the end of the year and feel like you had more to give."
Lundqvist was at his best in the early stages of the contest as a revved-up Canadiens team blitzed the Rangers early and often in front of a deafening crowd at the Bell Centre; and even though Montreal scored the game's first goal off a fluky bounce, Lundqvist was a brick wall Monday night. He has allowed only six goals during the five-game winning streak, and he now owns a 10-6 record in this post-season.
"They had a great start to the game, and we were a little flat-footed there, but he played terrific there, those first ten minutes, and kept us in the game," noted defenseman Anton Stralman, who logged nearly 23 minutes of ice time Monday night. "It's a great feeling to look back there and have Hank. We are very confident in him, and he delivers time and again."
At the other end of the ice was 24 year-old rookie Dustin Tokarski, selected by Montreal head coach Michel Therrien to start in the place of Price, the Olympic gold medalist who suffered an undisclosed injury during a Game One collision with New York's Chris Kreider and was pronounced unable to play for the remainder of this series by Therrien following Monday's morning skate. Tokarski, who led Norfolk to the AHL championship three years ago, but who had just ten games of NHL experience, allowed first period goals to Ryan McDonagh and Rick Nash, and a second-period score to Martin St. Louis, while finishing with 27 saves.
When asked about Tokarski after the game, Lundqvist said that the rookie "played well."
After losing the series opener on home ice, 7-2, on Saturday afternoon, the Canadiens got the start they wanted--and needed with Price sidelined--when Max Pacorietty was credited with his fourth goal of the playoffs 6:14 into the first period. The goal came following heavy forecheck pressure in the Rangers defensive zone and a subsequent turnover in front of his own net by Mats Zuccarello. The bouncing puck went off Pacorietty and past Lundqvist, who had held Montreal at bay right from the get go when Rene Bourque had three point-blank chances to score just 35 seconds into the game, but was denied all three times by Lundqvist.
With the crowd whipped into a frenzy and the public address announcer still announcing Pacorietty's goal, the Rangers responded with a goal of their own just 17 seconds later. McDonagh's left-point shot deflected off Montreal's Josh Gorges in front of Tokarski, and the puck then bounced off the near post and into the net at 6:31, tying the game 1-1. The goal was McDonagh's second of the series and third of the playoffs, and it quieted the raucous crowd, coming on only New York's second shot against Tokarski.
"We expected them to make that strong push at the beginning, but we didn't panic and we weathered the storm and answered back quick with a goal, and that's what you have to do in the playoffs--get the momentum back when the momentum is going the other way," explained Derek Dorsett.
Lundqvist got the better of Pacorietty with 4:11 remaining in the first when he robbed the Canadiens winger who ripped a shot from the slot following yet another Rangers turnover. Lundqvist made 13 saves in the opening period, and gave his team the backing they needed when Montreal applied heavy pressure for much of the period.
"He's the only reason why we were still in the game when they had a tremendous push and they had total control and possession of the game," stated Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault.
That stellar work in goal paid off in a big way when Nash scored for the second straight game, this time with 62 seconds to play in the first, letting New York carry a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. Nash buried a one-timer from right wing on a cross-ice pass from Kreider, the certified Public Enemy No. 1 in the minds of Montreal fans.
"He's an umbelievable player, can be so dominant," Kreider said of his linemate, Nash. "We've scored by committee all season, but he's a big part of that, of course, and we're happy for him now that he's got it going again."
Lundqvist was called on early in the second period to make several difficult saves--including one in which he stoned Lars Eller on the doorstep just 1:49 into the period--and the Rangers proceeded to slowly settle the game down nd turn it in their favor with a stronger transition game. Solid work on the forecheck by all four lines turned the tide in New York's favor with seemingly everyone from Nash and Derek Stepan at the top to Dorsett and Brian Boyle on the bottom feeding off one another.
St. Louis--whose mother's funeral was held the previous day outside of Montreal--continued his magical and emotional recent run by scoring his fifth of the playoffs at 8:03 of the second period to put the visitors on top 3-1. With Alex Galchenyuk in the penalty box for a tripping minor, St. Louis snapped a one-timer from between the circles past Tokarski, giving him five points during the winning streak. The goal was New York's fourth on the power play in this series already.
Stepan made the quick, sweet pass to set up St. Louis' goal, his second assist of the night. McDonagh also earned an assist on the power play goal, giving him six points in the first two games of this series.
Montreal turned up the heat in the third period, firing 20 shots in total on Lundqvist, who stopped them all. He turned in his best work of the period when Benoit Pouliot was penalized for boarding Alexei Emelin with 4:22 left to play and Therrien pulled Tokarski for the extra attacker, creating a 6-on-4 Canadiens power play. Lundqvist battled as Montreal crashed his crease and shot from all angles, making six saves during the two minute power play.
"The sole reason we lost the game was Lundqvist," said Therrien. "He was phenomenal, phenomenal. He stole the game."
The Rangers were forced to play without center Derick Brassard, who sat out with an undisclosed injury. Brassard was hurt in the first period of Saturday's game, playing just two shifts before being shut down. He took part in the morning skate Monday, but was not able to play in Game Two.
Brassard was replaced in the lineup by Daniel Carcillo, who skated on the fourth line with Boyle and Dorsett. Dominic Moore moved up to take Brassard's spot between Pouliot and Zuccarello.
Having won the first two games of this series on the road, and now just two wins away from reaching their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years, the Rangers will return home to host the Canadiens in Game Three Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.