Rangers take series stranglehold with win over Canadiens
New York Rangers forward Rick Nash (61) tries to get a shot off against Montreal Canadiens centre David Desharnais and goalie Dustin Tokarski (35) during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final Sunday at Madison Square Garden. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)
In a previous NHL life when they were winning a Stanley Cup together in Tampa Bay, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards got used to celebrating together.
So when the diminutive, clutch forward delivered a stake to the heart of the Montreal Canadiens here Sunday night, a decade after their most memorable party, the teammates were at it again.
A perfectly placed St. Louis shot 6:02 into overtime snuck underneath the crossbar and over the glove hand of Game 3 hero Dustin Tokarski and gave the New York Rangers a 3-2 win in the game and a commanding 3-1 margin in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference final.
The goal created Broadway bedlam before a Memorial Day weekend crowd at Madison Square Garden as their beloved Blueshirts are now a game away from advancing to the Cup final for the first time since they won it 20 years ago.
“I’ve jumped on him a couple times in overtime and it never gets old,” Richards said of St. Louis, who has now scored four playoff overtime winners in his career.
It never gets old for St. Louis, either, though at times on Sunday he had to wonder if it was going to happen on this night.
Earlier in the game, he had three serious scoring chances including one of the highlight saves of this post-season when Tokarski robbed him with a huge glove save in the second period.
So why did he go to the same spot again, short side as he slipped in from the faceoff circle to the right of the Montreal net and buried the shot?
“You’ve got to trust what you see,” St. Louis said. “I felt I had room and sometimes you have to keep trusting yourself and concentrate on your next opportunity.”
In many ways, the Rangers were fortunate that the opportunity even came. Though the Canadiens had been sloppy much of the night — including on the play leading up to the game winner when they repeatedly turned over the puck — the Rangers were at times bent on killing themselves.
Eight times they gave the Habs a power-play chance, only giving up one goal on a point blast from struggling PK Subban. Even normally stellar King Henrik Lundqvist was anything but regal in the Rangers net as both goals that beat him were pucks he would often snare.
And then there was talented Montreal youngster Alex Galchenyuk, who nearly beat Lundqvist late in regulation as the Rangers were saved by a slice of their goalie’s shoulder and a loud puck off the crossbar.
In the end, though, the Rangers found a way to persevere, ultimately taking advantage of a Canadiens team prone to too much sloppiness. Goals by Carl Hagelin (short-handed) and a slapshot blast from Derek Brassard, both came on breakaways as so many of the Rangers shots were solid scoring opportunities.
“It was very emotional,” said Richards, who teamed with St. Louis to win a Cup in 2004. “Overtime games bring it out anyway, but it would have been devastating to go back (to Montreal) without getting a win at home.”
Instead, the Rangers can earn a berth to the Cup final with a win in Montreal on Tuesday night to go with the victories they collected at the Bell Centre in Games 1 and 2.
A trade deadline acquisition for the Rangers, St. Louis has brought some life to his new team, a key veteran addition for what is fast becoming a remarkable playoff run. Mix in the emotion of his mother’s death just as the series was beginning and St. Louis has become one of the big stories of these playoffs.
And don’t forget the gold medal he won with Team Canada in Sochi — after originally being left off the team — and the story just keeps on getting better.
“He has been great for us since he got here,” said Hagelin. “He shows a lot of tenacity and a lot of emotion every time he steps on the ice.”
For the Canadiens, meanwhile, the desperation they felt a week ago has returned. There was a gloom surrounding the team and the city after they dropped the first two then game their own OT winner in Game 3 on Thursday.
The two off days prior to Sunday’s latest Broadway drama featured sniping and griping between players and coaches on both side as the Canadiens clearly were attempting to get an emotional edge.
“We’re going to put this one behind us and get ready for an even bigger game come Tuesday,” said Habs defenceman PK Subban, whose power-play goal was his first point in the series. “We did a lot, we had a lot of opportunities, but pucks just didn’t go in.
“We have a lot of hockey left to be played.”
They’ll have to play much better if there’s more than 60 minutes of it left, however.
MARTY ON THE MARK
Martin St. Louis may have caught Habs goaltender Dustin Tokarski by surprise, but not Rangers coach Alain Vigneault.
Since St. Louis arrived here late in the season, Vigneault has marvelled at the work the veteran forward puts in at the end of practice, essentially working on burying shots like he did in overtime Sunday night to give the Rangers a 3-2 win and commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
“The goal he scored tonight is exactly what he practises every time he’s on the ice,” Vigneault said. “(He takes) 100 pucks. He’s trying to put it right there. Obviously it was a great goal and a great shot.”
It was a memorable night for St. Louis, who led the Rangers with five shots. Though he has had overtime success in the past, it was his first extra-time game winner in the post season since he scored for Tampa Bay in Game 6 of the 2004 Cup final against Calgary.