PHT Morning Skate: Chicago looks to follow Montreal’s example

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The New York Rangers’ first opportunity to eliminate the Montreal Canadiens couldn’t have turned out much worse for them.

After allowing no more than three goals in each of his previous seven contests, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was chased from Game 5. He turned aside just 15 of 19 shots, although his replacement, Cam Talbot, was no better.

Montreal overcame a second period comeback attempt from the Rangers en route to a 7-4 victory that reduced the series deficit to 3-2. The game also featured its fair share of controversy, as has become the standard in this series.

With one series extended, Chicago will do its best to follow in Montreal’s footsteps.

Game 5: Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks [Los Angeles leads series 3-1] (8:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

A year ago, Los Angeles’ defense of its championship was thwarted by the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final. That moment has stuck with Kings defenseman Drew Doughty.

“It was a frustrating time,” Doughty told the Los Angeles Times. “I wanted to win that Cup again so bad along with all the other guys on my team. It hurts when you can’t get what you want and what you want back.

“It really gave me the drive, even more of ‘the want’ to beat this team just because they did take our season away last year and it’s our turn to do it back to them.”

After a lot of hard work, he finally has the opportunity to put the Blackhawks through exactly what he dealt with, but the completion of his poetic revenge won’t come easy. Chicago has been down this road before — not against the Kings mind you, but the Blackhawks did find themselves behind 3-1 against Detroit in 2013 and they fought back.

“Why can’t we do it again?” Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane asked. “It’s tough in the position we’re in now. But at the same time, we still feel good about our team in here and we all know that we’ve done it before.”

If the Blackhawks are to pull off another comeback, they will need more from Kane. He helped lead them past St. Louis and Minnesota, but the Kings have held him to just one assist in the Western Conference Final. To be fair though, Kane isn’t the only one that’s had a hard time beating goaltender Jonathan Quick.

The other two members of Chicago’s top line, Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell, weren’t exactly great in Chicago’s 5-2 loss on Monday, which is troubling as Chicago needs its first line to dominate to make uniting Toews and Kane worth the hit in depth.

The Blackhawks do have a great cast build around Toews and Kane, but they haven’t shown up so far. Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa have combined for just one goal in this series.

If any of those guys start to click though, the Kings will be in for a fight. Certainly, they’re anticipating a strong effort from Chicago tonight.

“I think we’re in a good place in terms of understanding that we’re playing a really good hockey team, knowing full well we’ll get the full charge tomorrow night,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said, per LA Kings Insider. “We’ll have to be ready for it.”

Tensions rise again between Rangers, Canadiens

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For a little while, it seemed like things might have cooled off a bit between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers … at least relatively speaking. The two teams at least stopped “8 Mile” battling between Game 4 and 5, but a series of hits and some rough stuff at the end of Tuesday’s Canadiens win might just rev up the distaste once again.

Most obviously, there were some questionable hits, with John Moore’s check on Dale Weise justifiably grabbing the most attention:

That being said, the two coaches seemed to agree that Moore deserved the match penalty, even if Alain Vigneault threw out the usual “He’s not the type of guy who tries to hurt people” line.

Lars Eller delivered a hit that drew some criticism, even if it was on a much smaller scale:

As much distaste as the Canadiens likely had for the Moore hit, agitating forward Derek Dorsett might actually draw more ire. He got into it with various Habs including Mike Weaver and Rene Bourque late in the game. Dorsett delivered a headbutt on Weaver, as you can see from this GIF via My Regular Face:

source:

To little surprise, Weaver was displeased after the game.

(There’s some allegations about some other poor sportsmanship, but that’s cloudy at best. Either way, Dorsett isn’t likely to receive many Christmas cards from Montreal addresses anytime soon …)

The Rangers made some comments about keeping cool heads in Game 6, but it remains to be seen if they can back that up with more disciplined play. If nothing else, it’s hard to imagine anything except a heated contest at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.

Canadiens replace Emelin with Beaulieu on defense

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The Montreal Canadiens certainly hope that their notable roster change won’t be as noticeable as the New York Rangers getting Derek Stepan back, but it’s a noteworthy alteration nonetheless. They’ll see a defensive swap as Nathan Beaulieu replaces Alexei Emelin in the lineup.

Update: It appears to be an injury-related move.

The Canadiens likely hope this change isn’t noteworthy – neither player generally lights up the scoreboard, after all – but it might have a negative impact on other blueliners.

Get your game notes: Rangers at Canadiens

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Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the Montreal Canadiens hosting the New York Rangers starting at 8 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

• Martin St. Louis scored 6:02 into overtime to give the Rangers a 3-2 victory in Game 4, and a 3-1 lead in the series. It was the winger’s fourth-career overtime winner, and his first since Game 6 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, when he was a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. His four OT winners are tied with 12 other players for fourth in Stanley Cup playoff history; the only players ahead of him are Joe Sakic (8), Maurice Richard (6) and Glenn Anderson (5).

• The Canadiens dug themselves a hole when they lost Games 1 and 2 at Bell Centre, as only one team, the 1944-45 Red Wings, has won a best-of-seven conference final or NHL semifinal series after losing the first two at home (17 tries). That hole got deeper after the Habs only salvaged a split at Madison Square Garden. Only one team, the 1999-2000 Devils, has won a best-of-seven conference final or NHL semifinal series when down three-games-to-one (66 tries). Montreal is 0-6 all-time when down 3-1. (Elias)

• The Stanley Cup playoffs went to four rounds in 1975. With a win tonight, the Rangers will become the first team to win a conference final or NHL semifinal series after going the distance in the first two rounds. (Los Angeles (up 3-1 vs. Chicago, Game 5 on Wednesday) can achieve the same feat in the Western Conference.) Before this season, eight teams played the maximum 14 games in Rounds 1 and 2 (and five others went the distance in shorter first-round series), but all of them lost in their conference final or NHL semifinal series.

• The Rangers lead all teams with 20 first-period goals this postseason and nine wins (9-2 record) when leading after the first period. The Rangers are 9-0 when leading at the second intermission, 2-1 when tied, and 0-6 when trailing. This series, the Rangers have scored first in three of the four games and have allowed the Canadiens to hold a lead for only 2:50 (17 seconds in Game 2 and 2:43 in Game 3).

• Tonight, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist could become the franchise’s all-time leader in career wins, passing Mike Richter (41 wins). Lundqvist, who shares the league lead in wins this postseason (11, Jonathan Quick), and leads outright in GAA (1.98) and save% (.931), has allowed two or fewer goals in a playoffs-high 14 of 18 starts. Quick is second, two or fewer GA in 10 of 18 starts.

• Dustin Tokarski, who made 26 saves in Game 4, will try to become the first Canadiens goaltender with 10 or fewer career regular-season appearances (he has 10) to help his team stave off playoff elimination since 1971. Ken Dryden (6 games) went 4-0 when facing elimination in 1971 in leading the Habs to the Stanley Cup title. The only other Montreal goalie with so little previous regular-season experience was Steve Penney (4 games), who lost Game 6 of the 1984 Eastern Conf. Final vs. N.Y. Islanders. (Elias)

• In Game 4, the Rangers allowed a third-period power-play goal to Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban after 28 consecutive kills over a 25-period span (8+ games). The Blueshirts were shorthanded eight times in Game 4 and committed nine minor penalties. In their previous 68 playoff games (since Game 4 of their 2008 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series vs. New Jersey), they only had that many minor penalties once (9, vs. New Jersey in Game 4 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Final).

• Alain Vigneault is the third Rangers head coach to win 11 or more games in one playoff year. All three won 11+ in their first seasons behind the New York bench. Fred Shero led the 1978-79 Rangers to 11 wins and a berth in the Stanley Cup Final (they lost in five games to Montreal), and Mike Keenan led the 1993-94 Rangers to 16 wins and the franchise’s only Stanley Cup title since 1940.

Rangers overcome penalty parade, beat Canadiens in OT

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Montreal Canadiens goalie Dustin Tokarski enjoyed some great moments in Game 4, including stopping Martin St. Louis with a beautiful glove save. His efforts fell short when his teammates hung him out to dry, however, including when St. Louis scored the 3-2 overtime winner.

All three of the Rangers goals came without a defenseman in front of their forwards. Carl Hagelin and Derick Brassard connected on breakaways while Hagelin found St. Louis all alone for that decisive tally. Many expected Montreal to lean on goaltending as an excuse if this series started to slip away; instead, Tokarski has been brilliant in the past two games.

With this Game 4 victory, the Rangers take a 3-1 series lead to Montreal.

Penalties galore

The Rangers found themselves in the penalty box early and often in Game 4. Through regulation, six of their seven penalties were taken in their offensive zone. Remarkably, that trend continued in overtime as Benoit Pouliot was whistled for holding the stick just 30 seconds into OT.

The Canadiens didn’t do much with their PP opportunities for much of the night, although P.K. Subban probably silenced some critics with another big goal:

Subban logged a robust 33:16 minutes of ice time in Game 4, but he couldn’t will the Habs to a 2-2 series tie.

The Madison Square Garden crowd was agitated at times on Sunday, which isn’t too surprising considering the fact that the Canadiens received eight power-play opportunities to three for New York.

Still, when you consider Carl Hagelin’s shorthanded goal, the Rangers have to at least feel good about their penalty kill. Teams don’t usually take more than twice as many penalties than they draw and come out even:

Expect plenty of discussion about officiating, embellishment and self-inflicted penalties, whether those debates take place in the comments or in post-game quotes.

An interesting goalie battle

Both goalies enjoyed some great moments, with Henrik Lundqvist robbing Brian Gionta:

Lundqvist might want one of those goals back, but he stopped 27 out of 29 shots to grab his 41st playoff win (tying the Rangers’ franchise record with Mike Richter). While the star power was on New York’s side, Tokarski acquitted himself quite nicely tonight, as you can see from the time that he bested St. Louis:

For all that’s been made about the Rangers’ advantage in net with Carey Price injured, you can make a legitimate argument that Tokarski has been just as good – if not better – than Lundqvist. Regardless, Lundqvist and the Rangers came out on top tonight and now sit one victory away from an appearance in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.