|Montreal's Jaroslav Halak stops the Rangers' Matt Cullen on a breakaway at 14:21 of the third period on Tuesday night.
|Renney Discusses Tuesday Night's Game ||WMP |
|Lundqvist on Montreal's Big Second Period ||WMP |
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The bad news is that the Rangers' five-game winning streak came to an end on Tuesday night in Montreal. The good news is that the out-of-town scoreboard broke entirely in their favor. As a result, the Blueshirts' 6-4 loss to the Canadiens at the Bell Centre didn't cost them anything for now in either the playoff race or their quest to finish sixth in the NHL's Eastern Conference.
Montreal scored five times in the second period and held off an early third-period run by the Rangers for a victory that pushed the Habs back into the playoff picture. In winning their fifth straight game, the Canadiens jumped ahead of both Carolina and the Islanders on Tuesday night, taking sole possession of eighth place in the conference.
The Rangers, meanwhile, remain in sixth, one point ahead of Tampa Bay, which fell 5-2 at home against Florida on Tuesday night. Elsewhere, Toronto beat Carolina to move into 10th place, right behind the Hurricanes but ahead of the Islanders, who lost to the Devils at home.
For the Blueshirts, Tuesday was a roller-coaster ride, which saw them dominate the first and third periods but fall victim to a fired-up Canadiens team and its No. 1-ranked power play unit in the second. Cruising with a two-goal lead after 20 minutes of action, the Rangers unraveled in the middle period before staging a comeback that made it a one-goal game midway through the third.
Trailing 5-2, the Rangers refused to buckle. They stormed back to 5-4 by scoring twice in a 75-second span. That shifted all the momentum into their favor until Montreal's Mark Streit burst the bubble by restoring a two-goal lead with just under seven minutes remaining.
Defenseman Thomas Pock got the first goal in the Rangers' comeback at 6:23 of the third, connecting on a long wrist shot from just inside the blueline between the faceoff circles. The goal, Pock's second in three games, hit Montreal's Maxim Lapierre on its way to the net and deflected past Habs rookie goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who finished the night with 28 saves.
Matt Cullen made it a 5-4 game at the 7:38 mark, beating Halak with the deflection of a long wrister from the left point by Marek Malik. The goal came after Cullen won a faceoff that resulted from a Montreal icing.
Meanwhile, Rangers backup goaltender Stephen Valiquette, who had entered the game in relief of starter Henrik Lundqvist during the second period, kept his team in the hunt by making a big save on a tip-in attempt by Lapierre just seconds after Cullen's goal.
Despite the five-goal second period for Montreal, it was not until Streit blasted home a centering pass from the slot at 13:03 that the Rangers were taken out of the game. The spirited comeback attempt, with their No. 1 goaltender long gone from the game, was a good indication of how this Blueshirts team will compete in the playoffs, when the odds might be against them against a higher-seeded team.
Even after Streit scored, the Rangers kept coming up with chances, forcing Halak to make a total of nine third-period saves. Halak's best stop came late in the game when he denied Cullen on a 4-on-4 breakaway at 14:21
It was in the second period, however, that most of the damage was done. The Habs stormed out for five second-period goals, including two by Alexei Kovalev on the power play. They also achieved the rare feat of driving Lundqvist from the net after scoring their fourth goal at the middle period's 9:47 mark.
Lundqvist was removed by head coach Tom Renney more as a means to shake up the Rangers than to punish his goaltender, who had stopped all eight shots in the first period and three of seven in the second. Given the third-period comeback effort, the move nearly paid off. In fact, Valiquette would end up taking the loss for allowing the eventual game-winning goal by Kovalev with 5:51 remaining in the period.
Montreal blew past the Rangers' 2-0 lead with three goals in the second period's first 4:36. They made it a 4-2 game just five minutes after that and stretched the lead to 5-2 when a centering pass banked off Kovalev's arm and past Valiquette.
The Habs onslaught began at the 2:17 mark with only 17 seconds left in a holding penalty to Colton Orr -- the game's first call against the Rangers. Kovalev got the first goal when he knocked in the rebound of a shot from Saku Koivu.
Only 32 seconds later, it was a 2-2 game, courtesy of a goal by Steve Begin, who took a pass just inside the Rangers' zone, skated down to the left faceoff circle, and patiently waited for Lundqvist to commit himself before ripping a 23-foot wrister into the net at 2:49.
Ryder put the Canadiens in front at 4:36, scoring on his own rebound from the left circle. After taking an initial shot just inside the circle, Ryder drifted left, and the rebound popped right back onto his stick. He wasted no time snapping in a 20-footer for the 3-2 lead.
Suddenly trailing, the Rangers managed some pressure on Halak, but the 21-year-old showed great poise in stopping Brendan Shanahan at 6:43. Lundqvist then came up with his biggest save of the game, diving to deny Chris Higgins on a backhander at 9:20.
The Rangers weren't so lucky 47 seconds later, when Thomas Plekanec collected a centering pass in the slot, picked up his own rebound on the backhand and sent the puck past Lundqvist for a 4-2 lead. That prompted the goaltending change by Renney.
After Kovalev made it 5-2, the Rangers struggled to keep up with the high-flying home team until the final minutes of the second period, when they killed off a 5-on-3 power play and managed to draw a hooking penalty against Michael Ryder. That would set them up for a much stronger performance in the third.
It was all such a contrast from the first period, which the Rangers truly owned. Michael Nylander had scored on a 5-on-3 power play midway through that period, and defenseman Paul Mara added an even-strength goal with only 45 seconds remaining, as the Blueshirts completely outworked the Canadiens over the game's first 20 minutes.
While Nylander and Mara provided the goals, it was Lundqvist who sparkled with eight first-period saves against a Habs team that had won four straight coming into this game. Lundqvist saved two of his best stops for the period's closing seconds of the first, denying Ryder and Kovalev on back-to-back desperation attempts.
Although the Habs entered the game with the league's No. 1 power-play, it was the Rangers' man-advantage that got all the first-period opportunities. The Blueshirts went on the power play three times in the period, cashing in on their best chance of all == a two-man advantage.
Nylander made the Canadiens pay for their penalty spree, finding the net just 41 seconds after the back-to-back calls against Saku Koivu and Mike Komisarek gave the Rangers their 5-on-3 power-play opportunity.
Koivu, who finished the night with four assists, had gone off for slashing Cullen at 10:34, and Komisarek had hooked Jaromir Jagr as the Rangers captain drove the net at the 11:14 mark.
Capitalizing on their two-man advantage, the Rangers set up patiently in the zone, waiting for the perfect opportunity to beat Halak.
That chance finally came at the 11:55 mark when Michal Rozsival slid a pass to Shanahan in the top of the slot, and Shanahan unleashed a 39-foot slapper at Halak. Montreal's goalie made the save while falling off balance, and the puck came right out to Nylander in front. Nylander smacked it home for his 24th goal of the season -- a new high for his Rangers career and only one short of his best NHL total, set in 2000-01.
One goal from Nylander might have been enough for Lundqvist, given how well the reigning NHL Player of the Week had been performing of late, but the Blueshirts managed to get what had appeared to be an insurance tally from Mara in the period's final minute.
The play started when Sean Avery took a pass from Petr Prucha along the right wing and drove in for a shot that beat Halak but hit the left post. The puck rebounded all the way out to Mara at the top of the left circle, and the Rangers defenseman moved to his right before uncorking a hard wrister that sailed through traffic and into the top right corner of the net at 19:15.