NEW YORK — Regrets. These Montreal Canadiens should have a few.
The fourth game of the Eastern Conference final was right there for the taking on Sunday night, but they simply couldn’t find the one extra goal needed to even things up with the New York Rangers. Eight power-play chances. A crossbar late in regulation. Two opportunities to clear the puck from the defensive zone before Marty St. Louis scored the overtime winner.
Where do you want to start?
Poor Alex Galchenyuk was despondent in the visiting dressing room at Madison Square Garden while recounting the shot he fired past Henrik Lundqvist and off the crossbar. The score was 2-2 and there were only three minutes to play and Galchenyuk initially thought the puck went in. However, a closer look at the replay revealed that it struck iron and spun away to safety.
The 20-year-old was oh-so close to another game-winner after scoring in overtime on Thursday night.
“I’m disappointed,” said Galchenyuk. “I could have ended the game right there and it would have been 2-2 heading back to Montreal. Unfortunately we lost, but I can’t over-think that play. I have to try to make a difference next game.”
The next one, which goes Tuesday night at the Bell Centre, will see the Canadiens take the ice with no margin for error. They are trailing 3-1 in a strange series that has actually been closer than that margin suggests. P.K. Subban took to Twitter on Sunday night and told his 394,000 followers that Game 5 will be the “biggest game of our lives.”
This one was pretty important, too, and it was the small details that doomed Montreal. Michel Therrien kept his composure during a post-game press conference, but disappointment was all over his face. Not only did Andrei Markov and David Desharnais each fail to clear the puck during a scrambly overtime shift, but St. Louis was left wide open to move in and beat Dustin Tokarski immediately afterwards to freeze the clock at 6:02.
“Well, we got a few chances to get out of it and move the puck harder in our own end, and it cost us the game,” said Therrien.
For St. Louis, the winner was all about persistence. He had seen Tokarski rob him with huge glove saves on three occasions in this series but tried his luck there one more time. It was the kind of shot the veteran winger practices every day and he was spot on with the execution for his first overtime goal in the playoffs since Game 6 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final.
“You’ve got to trust what you see,” said St. Louis.
Tokarski went down a little early on the winner, but he played well enough to give his team the chance to win. This wasn’t on him. Despite the disappointment of another loss, the man from tiny Watson, Sask., seemed as unflappable as ever.
“I don’t think frustrated is the right word,” said Tokarski. “We had some chances, we hit a post late and we had a power play. It’s a game of inches, we just came up a bit short.”
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of all was the special teams game. The Rangers were dangerously undisciplined on this night — and credit coach Alain Vigneault for saying “It was us, they were penalties, you can’t do that” — but all the Canadiens could manage was eight shots during eight power-play chances. That isn’t nearly enough.
It had to be frustrating to come out even during all of that 5-on-4 time. Carl Hagelin’s short-handed breakaway goal basically nullified the one P.K. Subban scored in the second period.
Montreal also failed to score during an early advantage in overtime when Benoit Pouliot took a holding the stick penalty about 190 feet from his own net. Those missed opportunities are the ones that haunt you when the other team ends up scoring the final goal of the night. Talk about a swing in momentum.
“Your stomach turns a little bit when you take a penalty in overtime any time,” said Rangers defenceman Marc Staal. “It gives them that advantage, and it’s a big advantage in overtime. We had a great kill. We needed it.”
It will have to be back to the drawing board for the Habs power play. Therrien made an adjustment for Game 4 that saw Markov park himself in front of the net and the early returns weren’t very good. Perhaps it’s time to give Lars Eller or Galchenyuk more of a chance to play with the man advantage?
This is the kind of second-guessing you open yourself up to when your season is on the line.
Montreal played well enough to win and must quickly forget this loss. The Habs aren’t really an inferior team to the Rangers, but it’s hard to imagine them beating Lundqvist in three straight games now. They had Game 4 on their stick, but…
“That’s playoffs,” said Subban. “That’s playoff hockey. All it takes is one bounce, it’s one inch, you know? That’s the difference in a game. I’ve been down 3-1 in a series before and the tide can turn real quick.”
It’s now or never, now.