MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens are not ready to concede the NHL Eastern Conference to the New York Rangers just yet.
Rene Bourque scored three goals and the Canadiens chased star goalie Henrik Lundqvist from the game as they defeated the Rangers 7-4 on Tuesday to stave off elimination.
The Rangers, who lead the best-of-seven series 3-2, will have another chance to book a trip to the Stanley Cup final in Game 6 on Thursday night in New York.
“I think you’re starting to see us playing Montreal Canadiens hockey,” said Montreal forward Max Pacioretty. “I don’t think you’ve really seen it in this series just yet.
“It was great to see a little taste of it. I think we still have more. I think we still have little things to work on. And it should be a fun one going back there.”
Alex Galchenyuk, Tomas Plekanec and Pacioretty also scored for Montreal, which outshot the Rangers 28-27.
Derek Stepan, playing with a guard on his helmet to protect a broken jaw suffered from a Brandon Prust hit in Game 3, returned to the lineup to score twice for the Rangers. Chris Kreider had a goal and three assists and Rick Nash also scored.
“It was just a strange game,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “It was a different game from what we’ve seen so far in the series, but now we’re going home.”
It was the third time in these playoffs that the Canadiens have faced elimination and, as they did after falling behind 3-2 to Boston in the conference semifinals, they came up with their best hockey to stay alive.
Pacioretty feels that being under the gun helps his team focus.
“There’s a lot of distractions and noise in this city and I think that when we let it affect us and we don’t worry about ourselves and what we can control we get away from our game a bit,” he said. “Now that we’re in desperation mode and our backs are against the wall, we’re just worrying about what we can control.
“When we get four lines buzzing like that and play the way we’re capable of we have a lot of success. Hopefully we can do that next game.”
The Rangers weren’t facing the same desperation and spent the game trying to play catch-up. Going only 1-for-7 on the power play didn’t help.
Neither did getting an ordinary game from the often extraordinary Lundqvist.
He let in four goals on only 18 shots before he was pulled at 8:58 of the second frame in favour of Cam Talbot.
“I pulled him because I thought at that time we needed a little momentum shift, and I thought it might catch everybody’s attention,” said Vigneault. “It did for a while. Obviously it didn’t work out.”
Montreal’s Dustin Tokarski, starting a fourth game since Carey Price was injured in the series opener, allowed four on his first 14 shots, but then made some big saves in the third to preserve the win.
It prompted a bold observation from Bourque.
“Everybody talks about how (Lundqvist) is a great goalie: Has he been better than (Tokarski) this series?” asked Bourque. “I don’t think so.
“(Tokarski) made some big saves for us too. We had a couple bad bounces but our power play was the difference. We got some traction, got a couple goals in tight.”
Bourque’s second goal proved to be the winner and came just after the Rangers came back to tie the game at 4-4 in the second period.
“Everybody was ready for this game,” said Bourque. “We knew the situation.
“It was just a see-saw battle back and forth. (Dale) Weise made a great play to me. I called for the puck and somehow it got through. It was nice to get in there.”
Bourque has been an entirely different player in the post-season than he was while scoring only nine goals in 63 games in the regular season, when he found himself a healthy scratch late in the campaign for the first time in his career.
“It’s easy to sit back and get down on yourself after giving up that lead, but coming out right away and putting that in the top corner, that’s the difference in the game,” said Pacioretty. “It was a huge boost for us.”
At 10:41 of the third, Rangers defenceman John Moore was given a major penalty and was ejected for a blindside, open ice hit on Dale Weise that was almost identical to Prust’s hit on Stepan. Weise was wobbly when he got up and went for treatment, but returned to the bench late in the period.
The NHL player safety department announced that Moore will have a hearing on Wednesday to see if further discipline is in order.
“The league will do what it has to do,” Vigneault said of the hit. “John is not the type of person who would try to hurt someone, but it was a late hit.”
There was no mention of Bourque, who took a slashing major at the end of the game.
It was a night of strange bounces and spotty goaltending, even if New York’s best chance of the game saw Carl Hagelin’s shot stopped by the end of Tokarski’s stick midway through the first period.
The Rangers did a good job of cancelling the initial rush Montreal gets from its pre-game buildup in winning the opening two games of the series, but Ginette Reno’s O Canada worked to plan this time.
Only 22 seconds in, Kreider was sent off for tripping and the Canadiens converted when Galchenyuk tipped in P.K. Subban’s point shot from the edge of the crease at 1:48.
Stepan made it 1-1 at 10:44 of the first on a 30-foot shot off a rush that fooled Tokarski. Plekanec restored the lead with a similar goal at 12:24 as he swiped the puck between two defenders and saw it beat Lundqvist.
The second period was a festival of goals.
Pacioretty got it started on a gritty feed from Brendan Gallagher at 3:44 and Bourque gave Montreal a three-goal lead when he spun and scored from close range. That chased Lundqvist.
Nash whipped a puck at the Montreal net and saw it go in off defenceman Andrei Markov’s skate 9:48, Stepan got his second in a mass scramble in front of Tokarski at 12:06 and Kreider tied it on a power play at 14:12 on a tic-tac-toe play after Subban lost his stick.
The Bell Centre went quiet, but exploded again when Bourque got his second at 15:10 as he beat Talbot from 10 feet out.
Several hats were thrown on the ice after Weise sent Bourque in alone to get his third of the game 6:33 into the third period. Desharnais scored into an empty net during a New York power play at 15:43 and crowd sang Ole Ole in celebration.
There was some nastiness at the end between New York’s Derek Dorsett and Montreal’s Mike Weaver.
Asked if he had been head-butted, Weaver said: “Ah, so many things happened I don’t really know. I was more concentrating on where the puck was. I wasn’t really worried about what he was doing.”
Notes: Canadiens defenceman Alexei Emelin, who appears to have been playing on bad knee, sat out with an undisclosed injury. Rookie Nathan Beaulieu played on the third pairing, while Mike Weaver moved onto the second pair with Andrei Markov. . . With eight playoff goals, Bourque is only one short of his total in 63 regular season games. . . Prust served the second of his two-game suspension and can return for Game 6. . . With Stepan back, J.T. Miller sat for New York.