Three Down, One to Go for Blueshirts

RANGERS 3, CANADIENS 2 (OT)

Several games within the game ultimately will decide the Rangers-Canadiens melodrama now heading to Act 6 tomorrow night at The Garden. Many already have taken place now that the Rangers are one victory away from a series win.

The most obvious drama has headlined the respective keys to conquest — the goaltenders, Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price. In pivotal Game 5, King Henrik was the winner, with a sudden death goal and a 3-2 triumph.

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The undercard — important in its own right — featured the teams’ respective top scorers, Chris Kreider and Max Pacioretty. Kreider was the winner, setting up the overtime goal by Mika Zibanejad. Meanwhile, snakebit Maxie blew a late third-period breakaway that could have won it for the Habs.

At the blue line, there was the fascinating “Battle Of The Backliners,” pitting captain Ryan McDonagh against the Habs’ Hit Man Shea Weber. Advantage, Mac, who played one of the best and most inspired games of his career. Weber wasn’t exactly invisible, but he also wasn’t on the winning squad.

And, finally, Mats Zuccarello vs. Brendan Gallagher in a battle of the smaller warriors. Doesn’t matter who won although in the early going Gallagher was superior, contributing a big goal.

It was Zibanejad who moved on to center stage, enabling the Blueshirts to take three games to two series lead.

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The winning goal originated with Kreider’s pass that caromed off Alexei Emelin’s skate right to The Big Z, who whacked the winner past the desperately lunging Price.

Before last night’s encounter, Kreider — New York’s leading regular season goal-scorer (28) — had been hog-tied and chided by the Montreal audience.

No more.

As Game 5 unfolded, Kreider grew stronger by the period and peaked in the overtime. Before the winner, he fanned on a perfect centering pass, but rebounded as the architect of the sudden-death red light. You just can’t beat that feeling. 

Meanwhile, Pacioretty — he topped the Habs in regular season points and goals — constantly was foiled. And when he seemed to have the winner on his stick late in the third with a clean breakaway, his shot went for naught.

And the Rangers went for the kill, got it and now have the advantage.

OVERVIEW: The intensity of the Rangers’ killer instinct will play a big part in deciding whether the New Yorkers can push Montreal out of the first round. A home ice performance similar to the Tuesday night effort would do the trick, although that’s easier said than done. Meanwhile, twin rookies Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich are performing like veterans. And, once again, Jesper Fast, is the unsung hero, doing big things with little attention.

WHAT WENT RIGHT:

1. TWO STRAIGHT WINS: The success at home and now on the road have the Rangers exactly where they want to be; a win away from the second round.

2. THE KING RULES: No, it wasn’t Lundqvist’s foremost performance, but it was good enough to get the win which is all that matters.

3. KEY PENALTY KILL: Montreal earned a third-period power play that had all the makings of a game-breaker. But the Rangers’ penalty-killers broke the Habs’ code and killed the threat.

4. AWAKENINGS: The likes of Kreider, J.T. Miller, and Kevin Hayes had their best games of the series and this could be a portent of even better things to come.

TURNING POINTS: Back-to-back second period Rangers penalty kills when the Habs were ahead by a goal prevented a possible runaway by Montreal. Brady Skjei‘s late second-period goal tied the game and simultaneously stunned the crowd and the Habs.

Zibanejad’s conversion of the Kreider billiard shot off Emelin ended the melodrama and began the celebrations in Rangerville.

BIGGEST SAVE: With the score tied 2-2 and the next goal figuring to be the winner, Lundqvist stopped Pacioretty, who tried to beat The King through the five-hole. 

WHAT THEY SAID: 

1. DEREK STEPAN: “We learned from the earlier overtime game we had lost in Montreal.”

2. MSG NETWORKS ANALYST JOE MICHELETTI: “The Rangers were so good in the overtime. To me, it looked like it was a continuation of Game 4. In the third period, the Canadiens looked like they were afraid to make a play. Let’s not forget Dan Girardi, who has come back into the lineup and has been strong.”

3. MSG NETWORKS ANALYST DAVE MALONEY: “This was old-time hockey; a street fight.”

4. MSG NETWORKS ANALYST STEVE VALIQUETTE: “Henrik Lundqvist played like he doesn’t look a day over 25 years old.”

5. MATS ZUCCARELLO: “I’m proud of this team. It was a real team effort. We deserved to win. Now we have to go home and play good there. The penalty-killers, especially, did a helluva job. It was so nice to see.”

6. ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “I’m pretty happy. Montreal came out real hard, but we were better in the second and third. In the overtime, we worked real hard and got the bounce. Before that, we had some good looks. Two teams competing real hard. Mika’s line was real strong; backchecking real hard, spending a lot of time in their end. Momentum-wise, going home, we’ll put a game plan together and they’ll put a game plan together, and we’ll both compete real hard.”

7. HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “In the overtime we had chances, but it comes down to one big play. I told the guys before we went out for the overtime to make something happen. Late in the third period, I felt we had them on their heels. We came up huge on the penalty kills because we worked really hard. In overtime, we wanted to win this game — and we showed it. Now, we have to just take it game by game after we enjoy this (Game 5) one. We’ll do everything we can to not come back to Montreal.” 

8. MIKA ZIBANEJAD: “At this point in the playoffs, you don’t really care who on the team scores in overtime.”

9. DAN GIRARDI: “We kept coming and coming in waves, and figured it would just be a matter of time before we pulled it off.”

10. MSG NETWORKS ANALYST RON DUGUAY:Brendan Smith is playing as if he likes being in the playoffs.”

COMING ATTRACTIONS: What could be the decisive Game 6 tomorrow is pegged for 8 p.m. at The Garden. MSG Network will have complete postgame coverage.

BOTTOM LINE: Game 6 at home will be a test of the Rangers killer instinct. A victory will put them in Round 2. The momentum is on New York’s side. The crowd will be too. The biggest win of the series is there for the taking!