Hockey can be a game of inches, and bounces. And while both the Rangers and Canadiens got lucky bounces late in the third period of Thursday night's Game 3, Montreal got another bounce in overtime, and secured a crucial 3-2 victory on the road to draw the Eastern Conference Finals to 2-1.
The Rangers got off to a stronger start than they did in Game 2, and held a 14-4 shot advantage through the first 20 minutes. A key moment of that first period was something that didn't happen, as a blatant late hit from Brandon Prust to Derek Stepan was missed by the referees.
The play would only galvanize the Rangers, who continued to get good puck possession in Montreal's end, and eventually scored the game's first goal. Carl Hagelin and Martin St. Louis broke in on a 2-on-1, and Hagelin dragged the puck around a defender. A St. Louis one-timer was batted out by Josh Gorges, before Hagelin followed up the play, deflecting the puck out of midair, and past both Gorges and Dustin Tokarski for a 1-0 lead.
Montreal would take advantage of their opportunities, and tied the contest early in the second period. The Canadiens broke into the zone on a 3-on-2, before Max Pacioretty wired a pass to Andrei Markov, who beat Henrik Lundqvist low to the far post to make it a 1-1 game.
The teams continued to play a pretty even game, which looked like it was destined for overtime as the third period dragged on. But as the Rangers missed a chance on one end, Montreal was able to counter and score at the other. Lundqvist made a strong pad save on Rene Bourque, before a scramble play saw Daniel Briere put it in front, only to be kicked in by Ryan McDonagh. With Montreal taking a 2-1 lead with 3:02 remaining in regulation, it looked like the Canadiens would steal one.
But the Rangers frantically pushed back, pulling Lundqvist with about 1:30 to go, as six skaters worked the puck around Montreal's zone in search of an equalizer. Tokarski was very strong during that stretch, robbing St. Louis after he took a cross-ice pass and was in all alone.
Still, the Blueshirts found a way. Dan Girardi won a puck off the wall, and threw it toward the front of the net. That's where Chris Kreider was planted, as he deflected the feed off the skate of Alexei Emelin, and past Tokarski with only 29 seconds remaining, and a tie game.
With all the momentum and the crowd behind the Rangers, it wouldn't translate in the overtime period, where Montreal got the decisive bounce. A Canadiens rush saw Tomas Plekanec direct a puck on net, and after Lundqvist got a piece of it, the rebound kicked out high, off the upper-body of Alex Galchenyuk, and into the back of the net just 1:12 into the extra session.
The story Thursday night was Tokarski, who really stole the game for Montreal. He made 37 saves in all, and really had no chance at either Rangers goal. Conversely, it was a quieter night for Lundqvist, who only faced 28 shots, and would likely say he should have stopped Markov's first goal, which he got a good look at, and beat him cleanly.
For the Rangers, Hagelin had his strongest game of the postseason, using his speed to get in on the forecheck and disrupt Montreal puck carriers. In addition to the goal, he had five shots on goal, and was noticeable throughout.
Both teams will be listening to hear if supplemental discipline will be handed out for incidents that occurred during the game. Along with the Prust hit, which wasn't penalized at the time, Daniel Carcillo was given a game misconduct, presumably for making contact with an official. If the refs so choose to interpret the play that way, Carcillo could draw a three, 10, or 20 games suspension.
Game 4 will be played Sunday night in Madison Square Garden at 8 p.m., with Montreal looking to draw even, and the Rangers looking push the series to 3-1.