Has the Bell Centre seen its last hockey game of the season?
It might even be probable.
Your Montreal Canadiens have lost their star goaltender and dropped the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final on home ice.
Now we know how Tampa fans felt a month ago (though it seems longer).
At least the Lightning were spared the embarrassment of being beaten by Martin St. Louis.
In his postgame press conference, Michel Therrien praised his team’s effort in Game 2. The coach had kind words for Dustin Tokarski, and Therrien sounded a hopeful note by pointing out that momentum can change quickly in a playoff series.
Indeed, if the canadiens can win at Madison Square garden Thursday night, this series could get interesting.
But can they beat the Rangers in four of the next five games?
On the TSN 690 postgame show, Mitch Melnick was not optimistic about the Canadiens’ chances of climbing out of an 0-2 hole.
“Unless Henrik Lundqvist and Ryan McDonagh collide behind the net and knock each other out of action,” my man Melnick said, “this series is over.”
But hey, it ain’t over until the fat lady si … oh, never mind that cliché.
Therrien described Henrik Lundqvist as “phenomenal” in Game 2. The Rangers goaltender made 40 saves. But until the dying minutes of the game, when the Canadiens went on a power-play and pulled Dustin Tokarski for a 6-on-4 advantage, Lundqvist didn’t face the kind of sustained pressure that was heroically withstood by Jaro Halak in 2010 and by Carey Price against the Bruins.
The Rangers goaltender did not have a parade of red jerseys invading his crease. Lundqvist faced few odd-man rushes or Canadiens firing lasers from sweet spots in the slot. The ebounds Lundqvist gave up were swept smartly out of harm’s way by the Rangers defence corps.
The possession stats indicate a dominant effort by the Canadiens: 41 SoG, plus another 17 blocked by the Rangers (Dan Girardi had five) and 22 that missed the net. Comparable numbers for the visitors were 30-8-6.
Tally it up and the Canadiens had 80 shot attempts to the Rangers’ 44. But again, until that game-ending flurry, the Canadiens – for all their possession stats – did not force the Rangers into what we usually see when a team is under pressure: Turnovers, lost battles in the corners and on the wall, futile zone-clearing attempts, sloppy play in the neutral zone.
No, the Rangers didn’t dominate on Monday night the way they had in Game 1. But from my pressbox seat, they looked like a team in control of the game – and, now, of the series.
We’ve had 120 minutes of hockey in the Conference Final.
The Canadiens have held the lead for 17 seconds – the time between the Max pacioretty goal that drove the Bell Centre into a frenzy in Game 2 and the Ryan McDonagh shot that beat Tokarski short-side to make it 1-1.
Here’s a stat that’s highly indicative of what we saw in Game 2:
In his 29:40 of ice time, P.K. Subban had nine shots on Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers blocked six of P.K.’s shots, and three missed the net.
That’s 18 shot attempts. The only player on either team who came close was Brendan Gallagher, with six SoG, plus four that were blocked and three misses.
P.K. and Gallagher played their hearts out, as did Gallagher’s linemates, Pacioretty and David Desharnais.
Rene Bourque did some good things. So did Lars Eller. Alex Galchenyuk made some nice passes.
But Thomas Vanek had no SoG after only one in Game 1. And the Canadiens are getting zero offensive spark from Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta.
They’re losing the special teams war. Through two games, the Rangers power play is 4-for-10. The Canadiens are 0-for-7.
McDonagh, who was the game’s First Star, played 25:24. All six of his shot attempts were on Tokarski.
Through the first two games, McDonagh has two goals and four assists. He’s been on the ice for SEVEN of the Rangers 10 goals in the two games … and only one goal-against.
He’s the star of the series so far. And watching the anchor of a very good Rangers defence is painful for Canadiens fans who remember McDonagh was basically a throw-in in the disastrous trade that brought Scott Gomez to Montreal.
But let’s not dwell on the painful past.
What about the near future – specifically Game 3 on Thursday night?
Alain Vigneault has his team playing smart, disciplined and hard-working hockey. The Rangers have a great goaltender, a stud defenceman, excellent team speed and some forwards who can score.
But the 2014 New York Rangers are not the 1976 Montreal Canadiens.
They are not an invincible juggernaut, laying waste to lesser mortals who stand between them and the inevitability of winning the Cup.
Can the Canadiens beat Lundqvist four times in the next five games?
I share Melnick’s skepticism.
But having come this far and proven so many doubters wrong, your Canadiens will fight ferociously to avoid the ignominy of being swept out of the playoffs.