Wednesday, 28 May 2014

'14 Playoffs Round 3, Game 5: Canadiens 7, Rangers 4

Michel Therrien vowed that his team would be ready to play on Tuesday.  Judging by the final score, a 7-4 convincing win on the failing-to-'Always-Be-Closing' Rangers, they were, although it wasn't easy.  It's not like the result was never in doubt however.

The Rangers have a little bit of Jason or mother Alien in them.  Whenever you think you've cracked their skulls or crushed them under the robotic forklift enough, that they're done, they come back to life, hideous, scary, and need another dose of 220 V or a timeout in the vacuum of space.  I have to give them credit, they show more fight, more spirit than the Bruins, who would lose their composure and act like petulant schoolyard bullies on who the tables had turned, they'd threaten you when the Assistant Principal's back was turned, but sidle off when they realized they were outmanned.

Special mention has to go to mandibularly-challenged Derek Stepan, who after missing one game went back to action with a bulky protective mask that had to be a distraction and must have impaired his vision somewhat.  Still, he found a way to score two goals, and be a factor all night.

Meanwhile, the Canadiens were approaching their potential, being all they can be.  Sometimes after a tough loss, when things look grim, a fan can catch himself reviewing the roster mentally.  "The Desharnais line didn't score tonight, the Plekanec line is ice cold, we didn't get a miracle performance from an unlikely source like a Francis Bouillon or a Mike Weaver.  Daniel Brière and Dale Weise didn't chip in their two surprise goals.  The powerplay is bogged down.  I wonder who we'll be able to pick up at the draft..."

Two players we tend to overlook out of habit, when we contemplate how we stack up against the Bruins, the Rangers, the Blackhawks or the Kings, stood up tall and made a difference.  Alex Galchenyuk missed about a month with a MCL sprain, and took a couple of games to find his touch.  He's now a threat on any presence on the ice.  He has the size and speed to shine in a series like this, and the hands and hockey sense to contribute some goals.  At times he was tentative during his sophomore season, but whatever killer never-quit tea they're brewing in the Canadiens dressing room, it's having an effect on him.  He picked up the first goal on the powerplay, deflecting a P.K. Subban shot, and added an assist.

René Bourque was the other difference maker tonight, after reverting to bad habits during the Boston series.  In the Tampa games he played like he wanted the puck, and once he had it he knew what he wanted to do with it.  This may sound trite, but it's meant in the most serious, specific way.  This season he often seemed to be aimless.  It's not like he didn't try, he'd finish a check here, take a couple of shots there, but it didn't amount to anything.  Tonight, when he didn't have the puck he'd go find it and fight for it.  He skated to support his teammates.  When he did have the puck he fired it on net, no fancy stuff, and it went in.  Three goals for our forgotten hero, plus a nifty deflection that bounced off a post, and a very worthy 1st star of the game.

So yeah, when your team has two horses like this, six-footers who weigh more than two bills and who can fly and finish, and they're going, it's a little more formidable.  And a somnolent, or potentially injured Thomas Vanek can take another game to find his groove, his funk is less fragrant, less flagrant.

And as the opposition scrambles to adjust, to account for these guys, now Max Pacioretty isn't blanketed, and David Desharnais has a little more room to manoeuvre, and they can burn the other team too.  Max scored a one-timer early in the second on a spectacular feed from a slew-footed Brendan Gallagher, and then sealed the win late in the third when he picked up a loose puck after a faceoff in his zone, skated it out to the neutral zone, drawing a defender, then flipping the puck high in the air for David to pursue and push into the empty net.

There is some cloud in the picture though.  Dustin Tokarski wasn't miraculous tonight, he made a few big saves, but whiffed on a couple, the kind that Carey would be unflappable on, would make look easy.  Further, the RDS gang pointed out that another way Carey was missed was his puck handling.  Sometimes Carey acts as a third defenceman out there, corralling loose pucks, clearing his own zone, setting up his defencemen for quick breakouts.  This isn't a strength of Mr. Tokarski's though, and Gaston Therrien was explaining that the extra hits the d-men are taking as a result are starting to add up.

In any case, even if Dustin was proven to be a mere mortal, Henrik Lundqvist was even more mortaller.  He flubbed a few himself, let in four quick goals on 19 shots, and was gone by the middle of the second period.  The Canadiens then staked his replacement Cam Talbot through the heart also, just to be sure, and potted two on him as well.  

One big hissing cockroach in the ointment is the goonery the Rangers tried to throw at our boys.  It's difficult to know where to start, which incident to single out.  The referees tried hard to make some penalty calls, to keep the game in control, but kind of lost it near the end.  

One blatant missed call was the Rick Nash pratfall on Dustin Tokarski.  How the Rangers get the benefit of the doubt at this point in the series makes the mind reel.  After the attempted amputation on Carey Price by Chris Kreider in Game 1, and Rick Nash's transparent "He pushed me" kabuki in Game 4, Mr. Nash again crashed on top of the Habs' goalie.  Mostly everybody should be dumbfounded that the refs saw fit to penalize Josh Gorges on the play, who was trying to actually prevent this from happening.  The Ranger used this as camouflage, steered into the crease and used Dustin as a bean bag chair.  

Again, I don't know how the refs don't see through this, don't get game notes telling them to BLOF goalie bulldozers in blue shirts.  They may have been trying to 'equalize' things, since they'd already called an interference penalty on Mats Zuccarello for pushing Mike Weaver into Dustin earlier in the first period, but the reasoning is unsound.  Mr. Zuccarrello fully deserved this penalty, and Rick Nash deserved his, it's not like there was a lot of grey area there.  At worst, both Josh Gorges and Rick Nash should have been sent off, Josh for holding, the Ranger for goalie interference.

There was also a flagrant head shot on Dale Weise by Ranger blueliner John Moore.  These guys had traded hits earlier in the game, and the Ranger probably saw an opportunity to get a good hit in as Dale was making a pass, but he goofed big time, and extended and reached to hit him in the head, instead of body-on-body.  He was given a match penalty, and the five-minute major that comes with that could have been the final nail in the coffin for the Rangers, but the Canadiens were remarkably lackadaisical and disjointed during their powerplay, and couldn't finish, or get any rhythm.

Dale looked stunned after the hit, woozy, P.K. skated up and grabbed-hugged him to help keep him upright.  Dale had to go to the quiet room, and I thought his night was over, which would have been the prudent move, but there he was back on the bench later on in the third.  Michel Therrien explained in his post-game press conference that the doctors followed the protocols and found he didn't have a concussion, which conflicts with what I thought I knew.  I thought that when someone is knocked out, or obviously has been stunned, in that they're not able to focus, have difficulty standing and keeping their balance, etc., that it's a given that they have suffered a concussion.  These symptoms are the diagnosis, I thought, not the player's self-reporting relative to how well they're feeling, whether they have a headache, whether they can answer the baseline questions, etc.  

We'll have to see how this develops, whether Dale can play Thursday.  He's been such an important part of this run, I wouldn't have taken any chances that his condition aggravate by returning to the bench, the action, the noise, the bright lights.  I would have called it a night for him and put the odds in my favour that he'll be available later.  Especially since the game was in hand at that time.

Finally, what can we say about Derek Dorsett?  This is the guy who almost took out David Desharnais on a knee-on-knee late in the regular season, that Francis Bouillon fought as a result.  During this series, while he was a pain, I thought he played under control, he was maybe a .3 on the Marchand scale.  I thought that reflected well on his coach Alain Vigneault, that he had his team playing hockey, relatively clean, notwithstanding the Kreider Strategy.

Possibly embarrassed at the end of the game, he first head-butted Mike Weaver, in a run-of-the-mill netfront clash.  He clearly, definitely crossed the line there.  Then at the end of the game, well after the horn had sounded, he cruised around looking for trouble, and skated past René Bourque and turned to 'front' him.  

Now, I think this may be adjudicated by the league, but I can't help but feel okay that René didn't hesitate to crosscheck him fully, strongly, in the chest, and that in his follow through, he caved in his larynx and renovated his chin.  I'm exaggerating, Mr. Dorsett didn't seem to be the worse for wear, but he did try to fight René, who wisely declined.  Luckily, a linesman was there to prevent the Ranger from getting free.

If the league looks at this incident, I hope they take into account the entirety of Mr. Dorsett's oeuvre, starting with his hard braking to spray snow at the Canadiens as they were jumping onto the ice.  From the very start of the game, he was out to 'send a message', the Nick Kypreos-favoured phrase that acts as a catchall for all sorts of goonery and lawlessness.  I hope the NHL observes that Derek Dorsett skated from the neutral zone into his zone, after the horn, looking for trouble.  I hope they evaluate what possible intention he could have had to target and accost the player who had just scored three goals in the game and beaten the Rangers almost single-handedly.  

I'd also invoke the Zdeno Chara defence, that René is so tall compared to his dance partner, he didn't mean to crosscheck him in the head, it's just the Ranger's fault for being too short, and not being at a crosschecking level convenient for him.  It always allows the Bruin to get away with his stickwork, so René should be fine too.

So we head back to New York, and have the tall task of beating the Rangers at home, without the benefit of our home crowd or last change.  Let's hope they've planted the seed of doubt in Henrik Lundqvist's mind, and that René eats his spinach before the game and that his 'potion magique' doesn't wear off yet.

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