Assigning kudos to scoring plays in a hockey game can be a pretty straightforward affair: you count goals and assists and credit them to individual players. From a more analytical standpoint, however, identifying the source of a team’s offense is a more complex task which calls for a degree of deductive thinking.
On Tuesday night, the Habs won Game 5 against the Rangers going-away thanks to six goals scored against Henrik Lundqvist and his reliever Cam Talbot, plus one more in an empty net. Rene Bourque was rightfully the focus on the night, having scored three goals including the eventual game-winner. Still, he could not have been named the first star of the convincing triumph without the help of three teammates.
20 year-old Alex Galchenyuk spearheaded the Canadiens’ attack in the first period, tipping home a P.K. Subban shot on the powerplay to open the scoring and then setting up Tomas Plekanec to help his team maintain a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. Skating alongside two-way stalwarts Plekanec and Brian Gionta, the sophomore forward has been doing some unusually heavy lifting for his age, playing the third-toughest minutes of his team and starting half of his shifts in the defensive zone.
“Galchenyuk has been impressive from day one. When you’re a top-three draft pick, it means you’ve got something special. We can all see his talent, but he’s still young and he’ll get even better. It’s his fourth game back and he’s just going to improve,” praised centerman David Desharnais
“For us, we want to see a lot of the things we did yesterday in the next game. It was probably the best game we’ve played in the series, so if we keep doing the same things, the end result will be good.” said Eller, who did not have a shot on goal Tuesday but used his size and reach to win puck battles low in the offensive zone. Taking a shift on the second powerplay unit, Eller cradled a behind-the-net feed from Thomas Vanek, drew a defender to him and dished off to Bourque at the side of the net for the winger’s first of three goals.
“I don’t think these two teams’ strongest assets are their physical play, but speed and skill. There’s going to be physicality for sure, but that won’t be the main thing,” the Dane observed. As the Habs’ top-scoring forward with 13 points in 16 postseason games so far, Eller has been one of his team’s best at winning puck battles, creating plays and drawing penalties with tenacious puck control. In his case, it certainly doesn’t hurt to be six-foot-two and to tip the scales at over 200 pounds.
Unlike for Eller, size is a luxury not afforded to fellow centerman David Desharnais. Still, Desharnais and his linemates Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher have been the focal point for everyone coaching against the Habs this postseason. After out-manoeuvring Zdeno Chara in the Boston series and being confronted to the Rangers’ top defense pairing, the GDP line continues to roll along, scoring at a highly respectable pace while taking heat off the Canadiens’ other forward lines.
“Of course you get a lot of confidence in scoring so many goals against a goalie like Lundqvist. We’ll have to come back strong and continue to screen him. He can’t stop what he can’t see,” offered the 27 year-old, who drove the net on the Habs’ third scoring play in Game 5 and later had an empty-net goal. “We have to start the game strongly again. We haven’t had the lead a lot in this series. They came back yesterday but we were able to get out front again. That’ll be the key in New York.”
With scoring threats spread over three lines, not the mention the additional firepower afforded by the presence of veteran Daniel Briere, the Rangers defense will likely have its hands full at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
“We came back in the series against the best team in the NHL, so that is a source of confidence,” Desharnais mused. “We want to go to New York and win in their building. Then you never know what can happen in a Game 7.”
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
Number cruncher: Young money