"Fun," he said.
That was one way to put it.
You could say the Canadiens, who dominated by notching more shots on net than Henrik Lundqvist had ever faced in a Stanley Cup Playoff game, were relieved to have levelled their series at one game apiece after their 4-3 overtime victory.
As time ticked on, with the Rangers clinging to a 3-2 advantage, the Canadiens appeared destined to end up in a hole few teams in the history of the game have been able to dig themselves out of.
Henrik Lundqvist made 54 saves, and had he made any more the Canadiens would have been facing two days’ worth of questions about the 87 per cent success rate NHL teams have had closing out a series after taking a 2-0 lead.
"We just stuck with it," said Pacioretty. "Just so many guys going, just four lines of continuous pressure. We knew our backs were against the wall, we knew what the buzz was like after losing one game. You don’t want to go down 2-0."
It looked like a real possibility until Canadiens forward Tomas Plekanec tipped a pass from Radulov over Lundqvist’s shoulder with 18 seconds remaining in regulation. Had that puck not gone in, 21,273 fans in attendance would’ve spilled out of the Bell Centre nursing that gut-punched feeling.
As for the 20 guys in bleu, blanc et rouge, who let two one-goal leads slip away and missed countless opportunities to run away with the game? Well, you can imagine how they would’ve felt.
It’s those close calls, with so much on the line; they haunt you. The Canadiens had too many of them in this one.
It was Paul Byron missing on a first-period breakaway, Pacioretty whiffing on a rebound chance on a second-period power play, and Shea Weber smashing a shot off the post with 12:04 left in the third period; the Canadiens losing a game of inches when they put in the work to win by a mile.
How do you guard against frustration setting in?
"You keep positive on the bench. You keep telling the guys, ‘let’s stay on it, let’s keep putting pucks to the net, let’s keep going to the net," said Canadiens coach Claude Julien. "That’s all you can say. It’s not about getting discouraged, it’s about getting encouraged to keep doing it, and I think that’s what you have to do as players and as coaches. We kept encouraging the guys right to the end, and in my mind you’re just hoping you’re going to get that break because you feel you deserve it."
The roof nearly blew off the building when Radulov won a battle down low and threw a hope pass to the middle of the slot that ended up flying off Plekanec’s stick and into the top corner of Lundqvist’s net.
It was loud when Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry, who hadn’t scored a goal since Dec. 23, ripped a wrist shot by Lundqvist’s blocker to give his team a 1-0 lead 4:05 into the first period. It was rocking when Byron finished a beautiful play by Brendan Gallagher to score his first ever playoff goal, giving Montreal a 2-1 lead with just over four minutes remaining in the frame. And if the noise got to another level on Plekanec’s goal in the third, it was deafening when Radulov ended things 18:34 into overtime.
It was eerily silent in between, with goals from Michael Grabner, Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello putting the Canadiens on their heels and their fans into a state of disbelief.
But the guys on the home side of the ice didn’t panic, especially not when they were down a goal in the third period.
"Sometimes you get a lot of chances and you cannot bury those, and Henrik played good and you can’t say nothing about it," said Radulov.
All you can do is put your head down and keep pushing.
The Canadiens had made a habit of doing it this season, notching 11 wins—more than any other team—when trailing after two periods.
But under these circumstances?
"I think it was more of a real character win for us," said Julien. "The way we just stuck to it, we didn’t panic, we just stayed the course right til the end, right til that tying goal. And we came out in overtime and our goal is to play on our toes and go after them and that’s what we did. So I think when you face adversity sometimes and you face it the right way, good things happen."
The Canadiens outshot the Rangers 31-17 in the final two periods of the game—13-8 in overtime—and they out-chanced them by a wide margin. Prevailing as they did could very well galvanize them from this point on.
"We gotta play like we played in the third, the last 10 minutes and in overtime; play smart hockey; play more in their zone than in ours," said Radulov.
You can imagine how much fun that would be.