The simple fact is the Montreal Canadiens were going to lose.
Never mind that they were the NHL’s regular season comeback kings, or that the New York Rangers were reeling from about the middle of the third period onward.
They were going to go down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference quarter-final because the visitors were up 3-2, the guy in the other nets was playing out of his mind, and this is a team that has trouble scoring goals.
When defenceman Shea Weber’s third period snap-shot caught the cross-bar it was a case of yet another bounce going New York’s way.
And then, at the death, they scored.
That the man to tip an Alex Radulov pass beyond Henrik Lundqvist with just 17.3 seconds to play was Tomas Plekanec – reduced essentially to fourth-line minutes in a miserable game one – made it all the more surprising.
In retrospect, none of it should have been.
“We don’t give up,” Plekanec said afterward. “We just keep going.”
As coach Claude Julien watched the minutes fall away in the third, he remained resolutely positive.
“We kept encouraging the guys right to the end, in my mind you’re just hoping you’re going to get that break because you feel you deserve it,” he said.
Julien and Plekanec first became acquainted in the former’s first professional coaching gig with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, more than anyone he understands – and also appreciates – the drudge work done by defensive specialists.
“For him to get rewarded like that makes everybody feel good,” Julien said.
Even the famously stoic Weber, who was on the ice for the equalizing goal, got a kick out of Plekanec’s unbridled joy.
“He didn’t know where to go after he scored, he was zig-zagging in the corner there,” Weber smiled.
Plekanec, whose offence has largely deserted him this season, is one of the longest-serving Habs, he is also relied upon to kill penalties (the Montreal PK was perfect again this night) and play hard minutes against the opposing team’s top line – it’s harder to do against a club like the Rangers, who arguably have three second lines.
For those reasons and more the 34-year-old Czech wears an ‘A’ on his jersey, and is only one of the lettermen who put in an improved performance in game two (he won 63 per cent of his faceoffs, played 2:36 short-handed, and contributed an assist).
Weber and Brendan Gallagher, who are also alternate captains, had monster nights.
Gallagher tormented the Rangers defence, driving them to distraction and occasional thuggery – after taking three penalties in game one, he drew one in game two when Brady Skjei hurled him to the ice at the side of the net.
On the first goal, he’s the one whose net drive resulted in a broken stick for Lundqvist; on the second, his zone entry and puck recovery set up Paul Byron’s first career playoff goal.
Weber merely played 32:21 – and spent another six minutes in the penalty box after a one-sided fight with New York’s J.T. Miller, who had nailed him with a dubious hit in the early going – and shut down the Rangers’ most dangerous players (it is instructive that Rick Nash’s perfect shot past Carey Price came when Weber was still in the box).
That’s to say nothing of Max Pacioretty, who wears the ‘C’ and assisted on Radulov’s overtime winner with 90 seconds to play in the extra period (Andrei Markov, the other alternate captain, had a hand in setting up the play).
“Wow, it was looooud,” the gap-toothed winger smiled a few minutes after the 4-3 goal.
By the time the burly Russian, another of GM Marc Bergevin’s off-season acquisitions in the Summer of Character (Weber, Radulov, Andrew Shaw), poked the puck beyond Lundqvist, the Habs were firmly in control.
In the final analysis, they dominated the Rangers with 103 attempts at the net to 69. In the final 30 or so minutes of play, Lundqvist was forced into multiple heroics – Weber also cannoned a slap shot off the post.
A big night, then, for the leadership group.
Pacioretty said afterward his team learned a little more about itself on Friday.
Because of it, we now have a series.Report Typo/Error