The New York Rangers bottled up the Montreal Canadiens and squeezed out a 1-0 win in Game Six to take the Eastern Conference Final, four games to two.
After controlling play early, the Rangers didn't get on the board until 1:53 remaining in the second period, when Dominic Moore converted a nice feed from Brian Boyle.
With their season on the line, the Canadiens managed just 18 shots against the Rangers, including five in the third period. In 99 games this season, regular season plus playoffs, it was the fifth time that Montreal had been held to 18 or fewer shots on goal and their 36 shot attempts was easily their lowest of the postseason (previous low was 47) and came in lower than that only twice during the regular season.
The Rangers dominated possession in the deciding game, with 58 shot attempts to the Canadiens' 36. Subban was even in terms of 5-on-5 shot attempts (16 for, 16 against), which meant that the Habs were left with 27.3% of the 5-on-5 shot attempts (12 for, 32 against) when Subban was off the ice.
There were many occasions throughout the series when the Rangers used their speed to take advantage of the Canadiens and that worked in Game Six too. LW Chris Kreider was on for 84.2% of the 5-on-5 shot attempts when he was on the ice, the best rate of the eight Rangers to come in with possession numbers higher than 70% for the game. At the low end for the Rangers in Game Six, LW Carl Hagelin was on for just 21.1% (four for, 15 against) of the 5-on-5 shot attempts.
Getting the worst of the possession stats for Montreal was D Andrei Markov, on for 17.9% of the shot attempts (five for, 23 against). With Markov off the ice, the Canadiens were getting 47.9% of the even-strength attempts. Heading towards unrestricted free agency, will that be the last game Markov plays for the Canadiens? He's slowing down, but played a career-high 25:14 per game this season, so he's an integral part of the Canadiens' blueline.
Game Six hero Rene Bourque didn't register a shot on goal, team captain Brian Gionta didn't manage a single attempted shot and LW Max Pacioretty, who had three shots on goal, was the only Habs forward with more than two.
As much as it was a nice playoff run for the Canadiens, it ended in disappointment. (Coughlin's Law: Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn't end.) Bourque was a postseason surprise, with a team-leading eight goals and led Montreal with six points in the series against the Rangers.
C Lars Eller led Montreal forwards with 13 points and D P.K. Subban, despite two points in six games against the Rangers, led the Habs with 14 points in 17 games, but the last 10 games of the playoffs were hard on Thomas Vanek, Montreal's big trade deadline acquisition, who had two goals and two assists in that span, registering a total of 13 shots on goal.
For a player who averaged a career-high 3.18 shots on goal per game during the regular season, that decline suggested that Vanek could have been playing hurt. It's hard to fathom such a collapse without some underlying reason, but if it was merely just a run of poor play from Vanek, it came at a most inopportune time.
Rookie G Dustin Tokarski was excellent for Montreal in Game Six, turning aside 31 of 32 shots by the Rangers, leaving him with a .916 save percentage for the series; a nice unexpected contribution for the Habs. Will it be enough to change their plans for next season? Carey Price and Peter Budaj are under contract, which doesn't leave room for Tokarski, so maybe he's looking at another year in the AHL. Tokarski does have an inexpensive one-way deal in 2015-2016.
For the Rangers, G Henrik Lundqvist rebounded from getting pulled in Game Five and while he wasn't tested much during his 18-save shutout, he did have a spectacular save off a Vanek scoring chance when the game was still scoreless. Lundqvist has a .928 save percentage in the postseason, the best among goaltenders with at least six games played.
The other assist on Moore's series-winning goal went to Ryan McDonagh, yet another shot through the Habs' heart, as their former prospect had a monster series, with 10 points in six games. He had three points in 14 games through the first two rounds and goes into the Final tied with Martin St. Louis and Derek Stepan for the Rangers' playoff scoring lead.
The popular notion is that the Rangers are going to be easy pickings for either Chicago or Los Angeles, whichever team claims the Western Conference, but the Rangers shouldn't be dismissed so easily. They finished the regular season sixth in Fenwick Close (53.6%) and have one of the game's premier puck stoppers behind them. That alone should give them a chance and for a team that last won the Stanley Cup 20 years ago, that's a pretty exciting proposition.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.