Rabid Habs

What Just Happened? Rangers top Habs 3-2 in OT

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs Rd1

The city of Montreal has experienced the entire range of playoff emotions in this first round series against the New York Rangers.

And it’s not even over yet.

Suffering disappointments on several occasions through five games, the Canadiens have also had their fair share of triumphs.

Game five was not one of those triumphs. So, What Just Happened?

Henrik Lundqvist Weathered the Storm

Make no mistake about it, the Rangers’ net minder has been the best player in this series on either team. No one player has had as much of an impact on the success or failure of his team. Through forty minutes, Lundqvist had his hands full with the attack of the Canadiens, and he shut the door as he has all series.

It would seem that the Canadiens did not get what they deserved through forty minutes; a sizable lead.

Careless Mistakes Cost Montreal

Texting my dad after the game, I came to the conclusion that I’ve come to after just about every one of the Rangers’ victories: The Rangers didn’t beat Montreal, Montreal did. Like we talked about on The Forum, we haven’t been super impressed by the Rangers stars, and rightfully so. When Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider have been complete no-shows for the Rangers, you would expect the Canadiens to have a decent series. Instead, on the backs of Lundqvist, Rick Nash and, partially, Mats Zuccarello (don’t worry, I’ll get to him in a bit) the Rangers have managed to have the Habs on the brink of elimination.

But if the Rangers offensive weapons have yet to get going, how did the Rangers get a lead in this series? Over the last two games, they’ve done so off of an increased number of Canadiens’ turnovers. The Rangers’ first goal is a pretty clear example of that. Alex Galchenyuk tried to float a pass back to the point, but Mika Zibanejad managed to pick the pass out of mid-air before setting up Jesper Fast for the equalizer. In overtime, Zibanejad’s winner was created off of a defensive zone giveaway. If the Canadiens are to come back in this series, they’ll need to tighten up defensively.

Artturi Lehkonen is a Playoff Performer

When Artturi Lehkonen came to the Canadiens this summer, the one thing every Habs fan knew about him was his knack for scoring in the playoffs. The young Finnish forward has shown us all that this success is not exclusive to European play, as he has scored two goals for the Habs while being a threat every time he steps on the ice. The Canadiens have something truly special with Lehkonen, and they are best served to have success sooner rather than later when it comes to Lehkonen’s price point. On his entry level contract, Lehkonen is providing offense that greatly exceeds his contract value, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets a much deserved raise. This kid is legit.

Max Pacioretty is due, but not entitled

Look, this may be an abrupt shift from my position on Pacioretty from my last edition of What Just Happened, but desperate times should have brought more out of the Habs’ captain. Alongside Philip Danault and Alexander Radulov, Pacioretty began this game with a little bit of jump and had several good scoring opportunities over the first half of the game.

Like nearly the rest of the Canadiens’ lineup, Pacioretty was a ghost for the final two periods, those being the third period and overtime. And maybe it’s not fair to place this loss on his shoulders, but it certainly is acceptable to want more from the Habs’ leader. He certainly wasn’t the Canadiens’ worst player, but I wanted to see more from Pacioretty down the stretch. Seldom mentioned is the fact that this is Pacioretty’s first playoff appearance as the captain of the Canadiens. While we can use that as an excuse, the Canadiens certainly can’t think that’s acceptable. The only way he’ll learn how to lead in the playoffs is by doing it. And right now, he needs to do it.

Mats Zuccarello is Entering Brad Marchand Territory

I never thought any player could be used in the same sentence as the Bruins’ uber-pest, but Zuccarello has had the same impact on a series that Marchand would typically have. A defensive forward with great playmaking skills, Zuccarello has spent too much of his time participating in… well… garbage. I’ve never known Zuccarello to be a dirty player, but since the puck dropped in game one, something has snapped under that luxurious head of hair.

Like his blatant, intentional knee-on-knee with Gallagher in game one.

Or his stick work in game five. Like this attempted appendectomy on, again, Brendan Gallagher.

Or his attempted lobotomy on Paul Byron (as far as we know, Zuccarello doesn’t have a medical degree).

The high stick on Byron was called, but it was only a minor, which is a shame. Zuccarello made no attempt to play the puck, as he swung his stick at Byron’s face with an apparent attempt to injure the Canadiens forward. Now it may seem like a reach to accuse Zuccarello of intending to injure Byron, but what else was he doing here? He certainly wasn’t trying to play the puck or try to lift Byron’s stick.

I understand that this is the playoffs and that officials are calling less, but only one of these incidents received a penalty, and not one of them is a hockey play. Like I’ve said before, unless the Leafs beat the Capitals, officiating will be the biggest story of the first round of the playoffs.

So, Now What?

Nothing in this series has come easily to the Canadiens, so we should have expected it may come down to this. I think the true character of a team is discovered when its collective backs are against the wall. That’s where the Canadiens find themselves now. The Habs’ brass have preached character since the fall of the last regime, and that gets put to the test in game six.

Is the series over? Well, no. The smart-ass answer is that no one has one four games, so the series can’t be over. In reality, the Canadiens are in the drivers’ seat. This series ends when the Canadiens want it to end. If they come out and play a game six to be proud of, this series won’t be over. That’s what the Canadiens have to believe going into New York on Saturday night.

Game seven is scheduled for Monday night, but for Claude Julien and the Canadiens, they’re all game sevens from here on out.

Puck drop for game six is 8:00 PM EST.

 

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