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Gordon: Montreal followed the plan, dominated play, and still lost

Montreal Canadiens players Brian Gionta, Brandon Prust and Mike Weaver, watch the final minutes of the third period as they lose 3-1 to the New York Rangers


Pro athletes and coaches can't afford to indulge in introspection and nurture negative thoughts like defeatism and cynicism.

Happily, there are plenty of sports writers around to take care of that end of things.

So while the Montreal Canadiens haven't reached the edge of the playoff precipice just yet, you can see it from here, and there's a hockey-team sized parking spot set aside just for them.

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The plain fact is they needed to win game two of their Eastern Conference final series with the New York Rangers, and played like it from the opening faceoff.

Problem is, after 20 minutes they headed to the locker room with the satisfaction of having dominated New York in every facet of play, and down 2-1.

Coach Michel Therrien said afterward – the Rangers would win 3-1 – that you need providential bounces and timely refereeing decisions to win in the playoffs; they had an ample supply of both in the first two rounds against Tampa and Boston.

It's to wonder whether they might have used up their quota for the season.

In game one, you had Carey Price going down to a series-ending injury, but not before giving up two goals in 49 seconds in the waning stages of the second period, which tilted a one-goal game in which Montreal was pressing into a nascent blowout.

In game two, Price's surprise replacement, Dustin Tokarski, was scored on barely 17 seconds after Max Pacioretty had given Montreal its first lead of the series on a rare lucky bounce at 6:14.

The goal, predictably enough, went in off Habs defenceman Josh Gorges' posterior.

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Then, with just over a minute to play in the frame, the Rangers bolted up ice after a faceoff in their own end on a quick three-on-two – Thomas Vanek has many talents, aggressive back-checking is not one of them – and Tokarski was a fraction of a second late in sliding to his left, and Rick Nash's shot had already banked off him and into the net.

"He caught me off guard a bit with the shot. I would have liked to beat the pass and gotten there on that one," the 24-year-old Tokarski said.

Small slices of time, then, with considerable consequences.

But at least Montreal showed some early vigour, and was bent on testing Henrik Lundqvist, who seemed to fight the puck early on, but nevertheless held his team in.

The Habs directed 41 shots at the New York net, missed on another 22 occasions, and had 17 shots blocked.

Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher and David Desharnais were a constant threat (13 shots between them and 12 attempts that were blocked or missed)

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Montreal defenceman P.K. Subban went on a possession hockey rampage, accounting for 18 of those shot attempts (9 of which forced saves, including a sparkling arm save from the slot).

It was a titanic effort by the young defenceman, who played 29:40 and was on the ice for most of the final six minutes, when the Habs had a power-play – former Canadien Benoit Pouliot rammed Alexei Emelin into the boards from behind – and pulled Tokarski to make it a six-on-four.

Lundqvist held firm.

"He's the only reason why we were still in the game," coach Alain Vigneault said.

Or as Tokarski put it, "there's a superstar at the other end and tonight he played like it. And it was probably the difference."

The situation, therefore, is uncomfortable.

The Habs followed the plan, dominated play, and still lost.

There's a good reason players tend to seek solace in defiance, tunnel-vision and clichés.

When Daniel Alfredsson, then of the Ottawa Senators, tried the truthful approach in last year's second-round against the Pittsburgh Penguins (the infamous "probably not" moment) it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Never mind that the Sens were down 3-1 to a powerhouse team, it's just not done.

So this is what we're left with, from Gallagher: "after game one there wasn't much we could say positive. After game two I think there is. There's a lot of stuff we can build on, the energy was there, the emotion was there, and the compete level was there."

And this: the Habs previously won a series after losing the first two games at home in 1987, when they beat Quebec City.

The minor difference of course is the goalie that year was Patrick Roy, not a 24-year-old minor-leaguer playing in his first playoffs.

But this is no time for negative thoughts, right?

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More


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