Commentary

Galchenyuk, Habs gaining confidence

Rangers must end series soon as Canadiens are getting better each game

Updated: May 29, 2014, 3:57 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- The man who last coached the Montreal Canadiens to a Stanley Cup championship 21 springs ago is watching keenly as this year's squad continues to show timely resolve.

Can the Habs remain perfect in elimination games (3-0 in the playoffs) with Game 6 on tap Thursday night at Madison Square Garden?

Why not, says Jacques Demers, who sees parallels to the 1993 squad.

"As soon as people thought we were done that year, we rose to the occasion," Demers told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "Against the Nordiques in the first round, we were down 0-2. Against the Kings in the finals, people thought we were done after losing the first game at home. Our players always found a way that year.

"Last night, you could tell by looking in the eyes of the Montreal players -- you either see it or you don't -- they were just focused. And the kid [Dustin] Tokarski lets in four goals last night and he still finds a way to win. ... I don't know, I mean, when the puck [shot by Carl Hagelin] hits Tokarski's stick, you start thinking, Is this the way it's going to go this year?"

There's another 1993 flashback for Demers.

"I was thinking last night, wouldn't it be something if we had Montreal versus Los Angeles again? That would be unbelievable. Because I love the way the Kings are playing," Demers said.

Well, let's not put the cart ahead of the horse here. The Rangers are at home Thursday night and Madison Square Garden will be rocking with the Blueshirts in position to book their ticket to the Cup finals.

You know Henrik Lundqvist is going to rebound. His impeccable pedigree suggests as much.

But the Habs are rolling right now. Ever since the start of the third period in Game 4, despite losing that game in OT, Montreal has carried most of the play.

All four forward lines are contributing.

[+] EnlargeAlex Galchenyuk
Elsa/Getty ImagesAlex Galchenyuk beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist in overtime of Game 3.

It's no coincidence that the Canadiens began to find more balance in their offensive game once Alex Galchenyuk began feeling like himself again. After missing six weeks with a lower-body injury, the talented 20-year-old forward has gradually elevated his impact with each passing game since his return in Game 2. He scored the OT winner in Game 3; he nearly won Game 4 late in the third period when his shot hit the crossbar; and he opened the scoring in Game 5, a huge goal that set the tone for the night.

In short, he has been everywhere.

"He's played really well," veteran forward Daniel Briere said Wednesday evening after the team arrived in Manhattan. "I think the first game maybe he showed [some rust]. You're showing up in the third round of the playoffs, after missing two months, it's not easy. Actually he's surprised me with how well he's played. The last two games especially, he's been a force. You know, he's so talented. I know he's still very young, but he's so talented that he brings us more zip up front."

Imagine the Habs trading for a top-six forward in the conference finals? That's what it feels like to see Galchenyuk's rising prominence in this series.

"[Galchenyuk's] skating is still a little off, but [he's] holding on to the puck and making plays," wrote an NHL scout, via email, who is watching the series. "Montreal needed more from [Tomas] Plekanec and getting No. 27 back is helping that happen. ... Better balance to their lineup and offense with him in lineup. Also gives them some size along the boards too. Plus allowing Montreal to match [Rene] Bourque up against third line of [New York] doesn't seem to [be] hurting them either."

Plekanec was really struggling early in this series, but Michel Therrien's decision to put Galchenyuk on a line with the Czech center and captain Brian Gionta has provided instant chemistry.

Now it's not solely up to the top line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher to do all the heavy lifting.

The third and fourth lines have more freedom too, because now the Rangers are more focused on the Galchenyuk unit.

"He's playing his best hockey," Montreal center Lars Eller said of Galchenyuk on Wednesday. "He's being dangerous. He's creating scoring chances. He got the game-winner in New York going to the net, and he got one last night going to the net. He's going to the areas where you score goals. And at the same time, he's making good plays in tight. He's making good decisions. You can't see that he's been out for a month and a half."

Added blueliner Josh Gorges: "I think he's one of those players, it's natural ability. He's just a gifted hockey player. He has that ability to make plays in-tight. And I didn't think he'd lose that. The biggest thing coming back when you've been out that long is your timing and game conditioning. But he's done a good job off the ice making sure that when he came back he'd be prepared to not only play, but contribute."

Shift by shift since his return, Galchenyuk has grown confident, handling the puck more, making more plays, taking over the game at times.

"Every game he's getting better," Therrien said Wednesday. "Definitely last night was his best game. He was involved. He was making plays in tight. He's got good skill and was competing, and every game he's getting better. So that's a great sign. So after missing six weeks, you can't expect a player the first game he's going to come back to be on top of his game.

"But the thing I was saying with Galchenyuk is every game -- he's played four games right now -- every game he got better, and that's a great sign."

There are signs, all right, with these Canadiens. They're growing in confidence and playing their best hockey of the series.

The Rangers need to squash this uprising Thursday night if they want to clinch their first Cup finals berth in 20 years.

They cannot afford a seventh game in La Belle Province on Saturday night, where Ginette Reno would blow the roof off the Bell Centre during "O Canada."

Could Game 6 be any bigger? It's 1993 versus 1994.

Only one club gets to rekindle history.

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