Habs vs. Rangers: Now we have a series

Canadiens leave Rangers searching for answers

Chris Johnston writes for Sportsnet where this first appeared. For more of his work, click here. 

MONTREAL — Mark them down as the eight minutes most responsible for extending the Montreal Canadiens season.

There was still a feeling of chaotic uncertainty, of frenzied excitement, when the third period started Tuesday and the Canadiens went about restoring some order to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final. That was no small feat with Montreal facing elimination and holding a one-goal lead that looked to be about as secure as an infant trying to climb a ladder.

Michel Therrien delivered a straightforward message in the dressing room after a wild second period that included six goals — the last of which had seen Rene Bourque put his team back ahead 5-4 after it had blown a 4-1 lead. The Canadiens head coach told his players that they tied the frame, 3-3, and insisted that they forget about how it happened.

Something must have clicked.

The New York Rangers would not even manage a shot on Dustin Tokarski until 7:59 and by then Bourque had already completed his hat trick with an important insurance goal on a breakaway. It was a pivotal point in the game. Had New York pressured, had it created some uncertainty, it might have secured a trip to the Stanley Cup Final right here and now.

Instead, the Rangers managed just three shot attempts — two blocked, the other a missed backhand — as Montreal fell into more of a defensive shell and started controlling possession.

“We didn’t panic,” Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk said after a 7-4 victory. “It’s hockey, it’s playoffs, it’s really emotional games and anything can happen, but we stayed in our system. We executed the gameplan and we got the win.”

The start of each period helped tell the story on an extremely strange night.

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