Narratives change, plots twist.
Sometimes it's the result of editing or writerly licence, occasionally because they shoot off of in unpredictable directions, seemingly of their own volition.
Take the story of New York Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who was haunted by the Bell Centre ghosts – until he wasn’t, playing brilliantly in the first two games of the Eastern Conference final and looking for all the world a Conn Smythe candidate.
There he was leaving the ice, head shaking, midway through the second period of game five, having given up four goals on 18 shots.
Was he lifted because of an injury, coach Alain Vigneault was asked after?
“No,” he said.
Instead, Vigneault said, “I pulled him because I thought at that time we needed a little momentum shift, and I thought it might catch everybody’s attention.”
It certainly captured the Bell Centre’s attention, the Rangers might want to end this series at home on Thursday rather than risk having Lundqvist play a game seven in Montreal.
Another classic storyline: teams in these playoffs have overcome a plethora of two-goal leads (more than a dozen at last count), so the Montreal Canadiens should have been okay with a three-goal bulge, right?
Not so much.
A lucky own-goal from Habs defenceman Josh Gorges, who tipped Rick Nash’s speculative shot from the goal line past his own goalie, Dustin Tokarski, kicked off a Rangers flurry that saw them score three goals on four shots – one from Derek Stepan, thought to be out indefinitely with a broken jaw just two days ago, the last from Chris Kreider, a.k.a. He Who Felled Carey (his skates-first slide into star Montreal goalie Carey Price in game one changed the tenor of the series).
On the Montreal bench, coach Michel Therrien surveyed the situation, and elected not to use his timeout.
“The reason I didn't call timeout is because I felt our attitude on the bench was good. When they tied the game, attitude was sharp and we scored not too far after, so we didn't decide to call a timeout because as a coach you had a feeling that your team is losing confidence, but that was not the case,” he said.
So the team that roars back from a three-goal deficit in the space of 4:24 of a single period must carry all the momentum, correct?
Yeah, but no.
Montreal was back out in front 58 seconds after Kreider (one goal, three assists on the night) scored his power-play equalizer; Rene Bourque, playoff stud in round one, enigmatic missing person in rounds two and three, scored his second of the game on a pretty passing play by Dale Weise and Lars Eller.
In the third period, the Habs came out with afterburners ablaze, creating a passel of scoring chances, including a Bourque deflection off the post to Ranger backup Cam Talbot’s right.
The inevitable happened at 6:33, Weise’s pass sprung Bourque between the Rangers’ top defensive pair of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, he promptly zipped an unstoppable forehand past Talbot’s earhole for his hat trick goal, 6-4 Habs.
“He was a force out there,” Therrien said of Bourque.
Now, about the idea that a team with a 3-1 series lead ends up advancing about 98 per cent of the time.
That one might now be cast into doubt too, given the Habs’ 7-4 game five triumph (David Desharnais scored into an empty net).
New York defenceman Dan Girardi described it as “a gong show,” when it was put to Tokarski that it was a throwback to the 1980s, the netminder, who was born in 1989, said “I don’t know much about it, but I’m assuming that’s what it was like.”
Conventional wisdom going in held that it would be a tall ask for Montreal to beat Lundqvist three straight times to advance to the Stanley Cup final. The odds are still against them, but maybe they’ve been trimmed a little.
“We got a little cute at times and let them back in the game, but like we’ve done all year, we’ve got great leadership and great composure on our bench, we were able to stay calm and get to the things that made us successful,” said Brendan Gallagher. “We’ve earned one more game together and we’re going to try and go do the same thing.”
The examples of zig-zagging plot twists and counter-narratives from game five are nearly too numerous to catalogue.
Tokarski was incredibly good, then he wasn’t, then he was again, shutting the door on Rick Nash in the third with the Habs playing three-on-five, stoning Kreider with the New York net empty.
Asked after the game whether he felt as calm as he looked, Tokarski smiled and said “suuure.”
When another reporter asked how he managed to keep his composure after the Rangers made their comeback, “at that point, it’s a tie game, we’re at home with the crowd behind us, the next shot can win so you have to stay focused.”