Enjoy it, but don’t be satisfied with it. That was Claude Julien’s post-Game 3 message to his Canadiens players Sunday night after their dominant 3-1 win over the Rangers, a game that at times looked like a continuation of the third period and overtime from Game 2.
On Friday night, the desperate Canadiens poured on the pressure to rally for a tie with 17.3 seconds left and won in OT to avoid going down 2-0 in the series. On Sunday night in the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden — where the Canadiens haven’t lost in their last five visits, dating to Game 6 of the 2014 Eastern Conference finals — Montreal not only generated the better chances but bamboozled the Rangers’ speed attack from the start.
“I thought in the first two games, we gave up too many scoring chances, too many Grade A ones, too,” Shea Weber said. “We were giving them a lot of room in close. I thought we did a better job of protecting Carey tonight.”
Carey Price came within 2:56 of a shutout, but even at that, he wasn’t severely tested. The Rangers finished with 47 shots, 21 on net, but a dozen of those attempts came after Alex Radulov’s pretty solo effort made it 3-0 with 4:25 to play.
Price had to make only 12 saves through the first two periods, six in an opening frame that featured two Rangers power plays. Special teams were a huge factor, obviously, with Artturi Lehkonen’s icebreaking goal on the power play late in the second and Weber’s back-breaker on the tail end of a four-minute advantage in the third, but the Canadiens set the tone by disrupting the Rangers’ ability to play with speed either at even strength, during which the Rangers mustered only 18 shots, or on the power play.
“In a series like this and with the speed they have, the neutral zone is so important,” Brendan Gallagher said. “The first game, we didn’t generate much, and it wasn’t because we weren’t working. The last two games, we’ve just been smarter.
“They’ve got a guy on every line who can fly. Our D has real ly been up to the challenge to break those plays up. You know that’s how they want to play, and we were able to neutralize it.”
The Canadiens capitalized with a couple of pretty passing plays on the power play and a strong effort from the emotional Radulov, who has been Montreal’s energetic focal point since he set up Tomas Plekanec’s tying goal with 17.3 seconds left in the third period Friday night. Radulov has five points in the three games.
“We’ve got to stick with the game we played, maybe be a little bit better,” Radulov said. “We can’t get any breakdowns.”
With a 2-1 series lead, Gallagher relayed Julien’s postgame message. “We know how they feel over there [Rangers] because it’s exactly how we felt after Game 1,” he said. “We can enjoy this for a couple hours, but they’re going to come out harder and more desperate in Game 4, so we obviously have to match that.”