NEW YORK -- Though this is only Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, it has to be feeling like a Game 7 for the New York Rangers, as they desperately want to avoid a winner-take-all match against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre this weekend. The Rangers already squandered a chance to close out the series, dropping Game 5 on Tuesday in a bizarre 7-4 loss that was as wild as they come. With a day to gather their composure and regain their focus, can the Rangers take care of business on home ice Thursday?
Hank Yanked: One player who will enter Thursday’s action with a bit of extra motivation is Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was pulled from Game 5 after surrendering four goals on 18 shots and was replaced by backup Cam Talbot. He has shown his ability to respond in these playoffs, with a decisive bounce-back performance in Game 7 of the first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers; he made 27 saves to record a win after being pulled in Game 6. His teammates require that same sort of resilience now. Derick Brassard anticipates a stellar outing from the former Vezina Trophy winner. “I think he’s going to be the best player for us tonight,” he told reporters after the team's morning skate Thursday.
Pushing play: Though the Rangers took a commanding 3-1 series lead, the Canadiens have been pushing the pace of play since the latter half of Game 4. Montreal dominated at even strength on Tuesday, recording a 61 percent Fenwick rating (a statistic that measures puck possession), according to Extraskater.com.
One particular statistic does not bode well for the Rangers: In the past five games in which Lundqvist has played with a chance to close out a series that was not a Game 7, he is 0-4 with a no-decision, a 5.53 goals-against average and just an .808 save percentage. He has also been pulled four times during that span. Lundqvist insists he has already forgotten about the previous game, and has set his sights on a series-ending victory: “I go out and approach the game the same way I approach every game. That’s to help this team get a win. I wish it was easy to go out and play your best game every time, but sometimes things happen.”
No Moore: The Rangers will be without third-pair defenseman John Moore on Thursday, after the 23-year-old was suspended two games by the league for his Game 5 hit on Dale Weise. Moore is done for at least the remainder of the Eastern Conference finals, with depth defenseman and ex-Canadien Raphael Diaz expected to draw into the lineup as a replacement.
For Montreal, gritty winger Brandon Prust is now eligible to return after serving his two-game suspension. Prust sat out Games 4 and 5 after a late blindside hit that fractured former teammate Derek Stepan’s jaw. Stepan returned to play just four days after undergoing surgery, scoring two goals for the Rangers in Game 5.
Prust is expected to replace Weise in the lineup. Though Canadiens coach Michel Therrien was questioned about letting Weise back into Game 5 even after looking disoriented after the hit, Therrien said his injury is a “body injury,” not a concussion.
Young gun: The Habs have received a huge boost from the recent play of 20-year-old forward Alex Galchenyuk, who returned after missing more than a month with a lower-body injury. Galchenyuk has two goals and three points in four games this series, including the overtime winner in Game 3. “I still think I can improve and play better,” he said after the morning skate. “So hopefully, that’s what I can do tonight.”
• Diaz-Kevin Klein