Like the Montreal Canadiens before them, the Chicago Blackhawks were able to stave off elimination last night when faced with a 3-1 series deficit. They certainly didn’t make it look easy as the Los Angeles Kings pushed them to the bitter end in the double-overtime contest, but the Blackhawks have lived to fight another day.
The series switch off again today, which means that we’re back to the Eastern Conference Final.
Game 6: Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers [New York leads 3-2] (8:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)
New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist squandered his first opportunity to reach the Stanley Cup Final, but his strong effort earlier in the series has afforded him two more chances.
Lundqvist was yanked just 28:58 minutes into Tuesday’s contest after allowing four goals on 19 shots. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it would have been interesting to see if Lundqvist could have shrugged off his rough start as the Rangers rallied back from a 4-1 deficit after he left the game, but backup Cam Talbot couldn’t hold onto the lead.
“I pulled [Lundqvist] because I thought at that time we needed a little momentum shift, and I thought it might catch everybody’s attention,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “It did for a while. Obviously, it didn’t work out.”
At the same time, yanking him prevented the situation from getting out of hand and potentially hurting his confidence. Now Lundqvist can come back tonight fresh and refocused. He’s not the only Rangers player that needs to do that.
“We didn’t give [Lundqvist] too much help,” Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi acknowledged.
For Montreal, all eyes will be on Max Pacioretty, who scored 39 goals in the regular season, but has been on-and-off in the playoffs. He struggled in Game 4 and called on himself to bounce back for Game 5. He did just that by scoring a goal and an assist, but the Canadiens need sustained production out of him.
Montreal doesn’t have any margin for error left and can’t count on another seven-goal outing led by a hat trick from an unlikely hero like Rene Bourque. Ultimately, the Canadiens top players will probably make or break them and that puts the pressure on Pacioretty.
Montreal’s defense needs to step up too, which had a nasty breakdown midway through Game 5 when the Rangers scored three unanswered goals in less than five minutes. That kind of stretch would have sunk the team on another night.
Even if Carey Price had been healthy, he wouldn’t have been able to bail out his teammates entirely during that stretch, but it’s not like rookie goalie Dustin Tokarski was blameless. He certainly has made some great saves along the way and deserves a lot of credit for coming into a high pressure situation and holding his own despite his lack of NHL experience. Still, Tokarski will have his hands full tonight if Lundqvist and the Rangers defense bounce back.