NEW YORK -- Clichés exist largely because they are often true.
Hockey, or any sport really, being a game of inches is one of them.
Except when that inch means the difference between stealing back home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference Final and being on the verge of elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the cliché can become a devastating reality.
It can burrow itself into the deeper reaches of your mind and live there for days.
The Montreal Canadiens are living through that reality as they find themselves down 3-1 in the best-of-7 series to the New York Rangers after a 3-2 overtime loss Sunday that could very easily have been a 3-2 regulation-time win if Alex Galchenyuk's shot with 3:15 to play in the third period had moved an inch.
It could have been an inch lower and missed the crossbar entirely instead of hitting the lower half of it, or it could have landed an inch behind the goal line instead of an inch in front of it when it hit the ice.
One inch and the Canadiens would have every reason to believe they are back in the driver's seat in this series.
Instead, their season is on life support.
"I'm disappointed. I could have ended the game right there, and it would have been 2-2 heading back to Montreal," Galchenyuk said. "Unfortunately, we lost, but I can't overthink about that play.
"I have to try to make a difference next game."
The Canadiens will need a whole lot of difference-makers in Game 5 on Tuesday at Bell Centre if they want to get the series back to New York (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
Max Pacioretty will need to at least get a shot on goal if he hopes to score. Thomas Vanek will need to compete for perhaps the first time in this series. The Canadiens defense will need to stop giving the Rangers breakaways. And the Canadiens' power play will need to make the Rangers pay for handing them eight opportunities to score, including one 30 seconds into overtime.
The Canadiens did score a power-play goal at 2:00 of the third period, but they wound up even in the special-teams battle after allowing Carl Hagelin to score on a shorthanded breakaway at 7:18 of the first period.
"It's the story of the game," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "Yes, we scored on the power play, but in eight chances we gave up the first goal of the game. They got a lot of momentum and a lot of energy from their penalty kill.
"With the power play chances we got, it should have made a difference. It didn't."
That same game of inches that sent the game into overtime is also what ultimately ended it. David Desharnais, who was Montreal's best forward in the game, had an opportunity to clear the zone and didn't. Andrei Markov, who has been Montreal's best defenseman in this series, had another chance to get the puck out of his zone and didn't.
"We had a few chances to get it out and move the puck out of our own end," Therrien said. "It cost us the game."
Martin St. Louis was all alone on the opposite side of the ice, "chilling" as Carl Hagelin put it, and had all day to wait for Canadiens goalie Dustin Tokarski to go down before ripping a shot top shelf.
"There was a turnover, and I knew he was over there," said Tokarski, who might have been the only player in a white Canadiens jersey who could say that. "He had some time to look where he wanted to shoot. You give a player like that time to look, he's going to make it count once in a while."
The game of inches gave the Rangers new life in this game, and now it has put the Canadiens on the verge of a summer full of regret.
The biggest challenge for the Canadiens may very well be to focus on Game 5 instead of dwelling on what could have been in Game 4.
"We played a pretty decent game, and we've just got to keep building," Canadiens captain Brian Gionta said. "As this series has gone on, we've gotten better, we've been able to get more chances.
"Obviously we would have liked to get that win, but we're not out of this yet."