Rabid Habs

What Just Happened? Habs top Rangers 4-3 in OT

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs Rd1

In the last edition of What Just Happened? I gave my positive spin on what I saw from the Habs in their 2-0 loss in game one. I say “spin” only because the Canadiens lost despite playing a decent game.

This time, there’s no spin necessary. Even though the Canadiens seemed to be living on borrowed time until Plekanec tied the game in the dying seconds of the third, Montreal was undoubtedly the better team in game two. So, here’s what happened:

Playoff Radulov has arrived

We know Alexander Radulov has enjoyed the spotlight in Montreal, but I wonder if game one over-powered him a bit. Let’s face it; he wasn’t his regular self in game one, and it was his first playoff game since 2012. Factoring in the fact that Montreal is not Nashville, and you’ve got a recipe for a little bit of culture shock.

Game two was an entirely different story. Radulov was his dominant self, racking up three points, including the game winner with just under two minutes to go in the first overtime frame. Interestingly, that goal wasn’t a prototypical Radulov goal, as he ended the game with a gritty net-mouth scramble. The Canadiens were torn apart by fans and media alike for not creating enough offense, and Radulov took notice.

Max’s Moment

Seldom mentioned in the flurry that is the postseason in Montreal is the fact that this trip to the playoffs is Max Pacioretty’s first as captain of the Canadiens. To be frank, Pacioretty hasn’t carried his regular season success into the playoffs over the course of his career, and it seemed like that trend might continue into this series. While Pacioretty generated scoring chances in game one, he was hardly the powerhouse that he has been this season.

After a much better sixty minutes, Pacioretty became captain clutch in the overtime frame, setting up the Radulov winner. Rangers’ forward Rick Nash attempted to break out of the Rangers’ zone through centre ice, but a back checking Pacioretty stripped him of the puck and broke back over the New York blue line. After fending of the checks of two Ranger defensemen, Pacioretty would start a Canadiens offensive zone possession that would end with Radulov’s game winner.

A lot has been made about the leadership of this team, and say what you want about “locker room traits,” but this play was a play a leader makes. I’m not sure if the series hung in the balance in the overtime period, but Pacioretty acted with urgency and determination on this play and led this team to a tied playoff series.

Plekanec Rebounding

With this team, I’m usually surprised whenever I see tweets that say “INSERT PLAYER is now the fastest player in Canadiens history to INSERT FEAT.” Game two offered a similar surprise in the form of our turtlenecked centre.

Tomas Plekanec’s game saving goal late in the third was a capstone on a terrific night. Winning 63% of his draws, Plekanec bounced back from a less-than-stellar game one with a game where his line dominated. When the Canadiens struggled to create offense in game two, Julien rolled out Plekanec’s line to give his team a jump start. While Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron deserve their fair share of the credit, Plekanec improved his game the most of the three, as he was, frankly, non-existent in the first game.

Plekanec has drawn the criticism of media and fans for his poor play over the course of the regular season, but his performance in game two should give all of us hope that better times are ahead for the wily vet.

Concerns on the third defensive pairing

I’ll call Nathan Beaulieu and Nikita Nesterov the third pairing for convenience’s sake, but make no mistake; the Canadiens played tonight’s game with two pairings and two extra defensemen. After a gaff that saw Michael Grabner score on the breakaway, Claude Julien benched Nesterov. Beaulieu was given a difficult pass that he booted towards center ice. Instead of supporting Beaulieu, Nesterov got set up for a one-timer, and Beaulieu was forced to make desperation poke check to Nesterov, but Grabner intercepted the puck and scored with a beautiful move. In a game that saw nearly four complete periods, Nesterov played just 13 minutes. Down the stretch, Shea Weber and Andrei Markov took on extra shifts and ended with more than 30 minutes each. I can’t imagine Julien feels confident with Nesterov on the ice, and if Alexei Emelin isn’t ready to go for game three, I think Brandon Davidson will find himself in the lineup again. Petry and Davidson played well together, and Beaulieu could be reunited with Jordie Benn, which could benefit Beaulieu the most. At any rate, playing with five defenseman for nearly an entire game isn’t ideal.

Getting to Lundqvist

Life for Rangers’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was far too easy on Wednesday night. If you give Lundqvist a lane to see the puck, he’s going to stop it. Because he plays so deep in his net, he relies on his reaction time to make saves. When he can’t see the puck, he relies on his positioning, which is sometimes suspect. The Canadiens did a much better job making life miserable for the Swedish goaltender, as there was always a Canadiens around the net. Petry was the benefactor of a beautiful screen from Radulov to open the scoring, and Montreal continued to create chaos around The King’s net all night. The Rangers, clearly frustrated with Montreal’s ability to get in front of Lundqvist, took exception to the presence of forwards like Brendan Gallagher in the form of uncalled cross checks and takedowns. As the series shifts to The Garden, I imagine the Rangers will be a lot sharper in front of their net.

Alex Galchenyuk is back at centre

This is not a drill.

In game one, it was clear that Galchenyuk out grew the fourth line, and needed to play with more skilled players. Julien recognized this early in game two, and Galchenyuk was moved back to the third line with Andrew Shaw and Artturi Lehkonen as the line’s centre. Generating five shots on goal, Galchenyuk assisted on Plekanec’s tying goal, and had an all around solid game. With both Plekanec and Phil Danault having solid games, I don’t see Galchenyuk moving any further up the lineup at this point, but this is a huge step in getting the most out of Alex Galchenyuk. Julien understands the offensive potential of the young forward, which is why he made him part of the last minute “hero line” of Pacioretty, Plekanec and Radulov, with Chucky coming in as the extra attacker. With King off that line, Montreal has three lines that are expected to chip in offensively. Now lets see if it sticks.

And we’ll have to see how far this dramatic win can carry this team.

Follow Ian on Twitter @BoisvertIan and follow @rabidhabs for more updates.

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