Five Keys to the Game: Habs-Rangers #4
The Wolf of Wall Street: Having made a habit of coming up big in big games throughout his career, Dustin Tokarski was true to his reputation on Thursday night. In his first career game at Madison Square Garden, the 24-year-old netminder stole the show with a 35-save performance in a 3-2 overtime win. That was the second-most rubber Tokarski has seen in game action as a member of the Canadiens, having previously faced 39 shots in his Habs debut against the Ducks – also a win – in March. The Rangers will have to do more than throw pucks on net if they want to beat the Canadiens’ newly-minted starter on Sunday night.
Replacing Prust: With Brandon Prust out of the lineup for the next two games while he serves a suspension for his hit on Derek Stepan in Game 3, the Canadiens will have big shoulder pads to fill in his absence. Prust is currently third on the team with 34 hits so far in the postseason and he’s also been Michel Therrien’s third-most used forward on the penalty kill this spring, leaving the Habs’ coach with a tough decision to make when it comes to slotting a new winger into Prust’s usual spot.
Put the “Special” in Special Teams: After humming along with authority through the first two rounds, the Canadiens’ special teams units will need to pick up the pace if they want to keep playing into June. In three games against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals, the Canadiens’ power play has been blanked on all nine opportunities with the man advantage while their usually-stingy penalty killers have allowed four goals on 12 Rangers power plays.
The Briere Effect: When Daniel Briere signed in Montreal in the offseason, fans were interested in how he would perform in the regular season, but they were salivating to see the perennial playoff stud shine in the springtime. Entering the postseason with 110 points in 109 career NHL playoff games, his reputation as a big game hunter preceded him and he’s lived up to it in 2014. Every time Briere has lit the lamp in these playoffs, including Thursday’s win at MSG, the Canadiens have come out with a win. Now boasting a healthy 117 career playoff points, the 36-year-old forward is tied with Henrik Zetterberg for the most among all active NHLers in that category.
Unwelcome Guests: Renowned as two of the toughest places to play as a visitor across the NHL, the Bell Centre and Madison Square Garden haven’t lived up to the hype this series. After seeing the Rangers come into Montreal and leave with a pair of wins, the Canadiens roared into the Big Apple and stole one back from the home team on Thursday night. That marks the first time since 2004 in which the first three games of a Conference final were won by the visiting team, dating back to a Sharks-Flames matchup where neither team was able to win at home for the first…four games. Is there a repeat on the horizon 10 years later?