Rene Bourque scored a hat trick to lead the Montreal Canadiens to a 7-4 win over the New York Rangers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final, staving off elimination for the Habs and sending the series back to New York for Game Six.
Bourque has been a revelation for the Canadiens in the playoffs, scoring eight goals in 16 games after a regular season in which he scored nine goals in 63 games. Bourque's career-high in shots-on-goal-per-game during the regular season is 2.95, in 2009-2010; in this year's playoffs, he's up to 3.19 per game, so Bourque's production, while unusual, isn't being generated by outrageously fluky percentages.
The Rangers pulled star G Henrik Lundqvist, after he played 28:58 and allowed four goals on 19 shots, his worst outing of the playoffs (though he allowed four goals on 23 shots in 39:57 during Game Six against Philadelphia).
Canadiens C Lars Eller contributed a couple of assists, giving him 13 points in the playoffs, enough to lead all Montreal forwards. If Bourque's goal-scoring comes as a surprise based on his regular-season production, so is the case with Eller, who had 26 points in 77 games during the regular season, including six points in his last 35 games. So, yes, Rene Bourque and Lars Eller are the forwards generating the numbers for a team in the Eastern Conference Final.
Second-year LW Alex Galchenyuk had a goal and an assist in his fourth playoff game, returning from a knee injury suffered late in the regular season.
Veteran Habs D Andrei Markov was beaten a few times, and had the worst possession stats of Montreal defencemen, but also finished the game with three assists, giving him 10 points in 16 playoff games.
Canadiens RW Dale Weise chipped in a couple of assists before getting knocked woozy by a John Moore hit in the third period. Weise has put up seven points in 16 playoff games -- not spectacular, particularly considering he's rolling at 31% possession over the past four games, but still useful for a fourth line banger.
After having his jaw broken by Brandon Prust's hit in Game Three, Rangers C Derek Stepan returned to the lineup, with facial protection, and scored two goals. Stepan now has 13 points in the playoffs, tying Martin St. Louis for the Rangers' team lead.
Rangers LW Chris Kreider was the big scorer on the night, with a goal and three assists. Kreider now has 10 points in nine playoff games and he led the Rangers with eight shot attempts in the game. Bourque led the Canadiens with eight attempted shots.
Former Habs prospect, now Rangers No. 1 D Ryan McDonagh added two more assists. McDonagh has nine points in five games in his series. He had three points in 14 games through the first two rounds.
Rangers RW Rick Nash also had a goal and an assist, giving him five points in five games against Montreal. He had five points in 14 games prior to this series.
The Canadiens managed to win a game that they nearly gave away, surrending a 4-1 second-period lead by allowing three goals in 4:24, before Bourque scored his second and third of the night to create some breathing room.
The good news for the Habs is that G Dustin Tokarski earned a win stopping 23 of 27 shots, a generally mediocre performance. The reason it ought to be good news is that if the Habs are going to come back from a three-games-to-one deficit, they probably need Tokarski to steal at least one game for them. The clubs have been relatively even in possession terms -- the Rangers hold a 293-to-288 edge in overall shot attempts for the series -- so the point of differentiation could easily be goaltending.
The task for the Canadiens is still daunting, as Game Six goes in Manhattan and, despite Game Five's results, the goaltending edge remains with the Rangers. But, if the Habs find a way to get it done in Game Six, returning home for Game Seven would be a most interesting 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.