NEW YORK â€” Inside the small, cramped visitors locker-room, Max Pacioretty tried to see the positive.
The Eastern Conference quarter-finals are now a best-of-three series, with two of the potential next three games at Bell Centre.
Eventually, though, the reality of what just transpired on the Madison Square Garden ice surface bubbled to the forefront.
“It wasn’t our best,” Pacioretty said after the Montreal Canadiens’ 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 4 Tuesday night. The series is tied at two games apiece with Game 5 Thursday in Montreal.
“We have to do a better job,” Pacioretty said. “Just sticking with it, sticking with the system, trusting it when (we’re) down.”
Rick Nash’s tie-breaking goal early in the second period was the game-winner while Jesper Fast also scored for New York. Fast and Nash’s goals were only New York’s fifth and sixth in the Rangers’ last seven playoff games at Madison Square Garden.
The win snapped New York’s six-game losing streak at home in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Rangers last won a home playoff game in Game 1 of the 2015 Eastern Conference final.
“It’s no secret we’ve been really disappointed with the way thing have been going at home the past two years in the playoffs,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who finished with 23 saves for the Rangers.
“We needed this win for the series but also moving forward.”
Lundqvist, who now has a 1.89 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in the series, had his toughest stops occur on Brendan Gallagher and Andrew Shaw in the first, and on an Alex Galchenyuk shot in the third where the New York goaltender turned to find the puck alongside the far post. Lundqvist also benefited from some good fortune as Shea Weber’s slapshot with 1:18 left in regulation hit the post.
Torrey Mitchell found the back of the net for the Canadiens. Carey Price made 30 saves.
After spending Monday reiterating the importance of playing their brand of hockey, Game 4 was contested at the Rangers’ breakneck pace. New York outshot Montreal, 32-24, and forced the Canadiens into 16 giveaways.
“We’re playing a very good team,” Pacioretty said. “We have a lot to learn.”
Nash broke a 1-1 tie 4:28 into the second period with his second of the playoffs and 14th in 69 career Stanley Cup playoff games. Nash’s goal was the culmination of a sequence which began with Ryan McDonagh keeping the puck in the offensive zone at the blue line against a pressuring Pacioretty, before firing a pass that the first overall pick in the 2002 draft corralled along the goal-line before stuffing it through Price’s five hole.
“I saw a hole to the net right away,” Nash said. “Once I took to the backhand I saw the five hole kind of open up.”
Price’s toughest save came on a sprawling stop in the third period on New York rookie Jimmy Vesey to keep the deficit at one. The Rangers forced Price to work more than he had in Game 3 by making a concerted effort to drive to the net.
The teams traded goals in the first and went into intermission tied 1-1.
Fast opened the scoring at 11:39 with his first of the playoffs. Fast had jumped on an Andrei Markov turnover in the far corner, then curled towards the net and shovelled a backhander between Price’s legs to give New York its first lead since Game 2.
Mitchell equalized seven minutes later with a tap-in off Weber’s cross-ice feed to complete a 2 on 1.
As had been expected, Alain Vigneault made changes to the New York lineup, inserting Pavel Buchnevich and Nick Holden for Tanner Glass and Kevin Klein. While New York’s defence pairs remained the same as Games 1 and 2, the forward units were reconfigured.
“I told him first playoff game,” said Vigneault of a pre-game conversation with Buchnevich. “He told me, ‘No, no.’ He had some in the KHL so that put me at (ease).”
The Canadiens started the game with the same forward lines and defence pairings as Game 3. As the game progressed, though, Claude Julien remade his forward corps, most notably putting Alex Radulov on a line with Galchenyuk and Pacioretty.
Denis Gorman, The Canadian Press