April 20, 2017, 12:46 PM ET [277 Comments]
Jennifer B Cutler
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The pendulum ball has swung back and forth between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers as each team has had their turn with momentum in this first round playoff series. Tonight will be no different as the Canadiens will look break the 2-2 series tie and retake the lead in game five at the Bell Centre. The question is which team will show up tonight, the one that played a near perfect road game in game three or the one that got badly outplayed in game four?
Despite mixing up his top six forwards in game four as Alexander Radulov found himself playing most of the second and third periods with Alex Galchenyuk and Artturi Lehkonen while Andrew Shaw joined Max Pacioretty and Phillip Danault, head coach Claude Julien will go back to his original lines in game five in hope that they will rediscover their form with one another.
Much criticism has been pointed at Pacioretty for not stepping up in this series as he has yet to score his first playoff goal in 2017. Memories are short in Montreal as Pacioretty was a hero in game two’s overtime as it was his steal of the puck off of Rick Nash in the neutral zone that led to Alexander Radulov’s game winning goal. Despite not getting on the scoreboard Pacioretty is still generating offense with a corsi for of 58.8%. Yet everyone is still waiting for the captain to take his game to another level. Other Canadiens leaders such as Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec have all taken their game into another another gear. Usually when Pacioretty’s play is questioned he responds with an outstanding effort. It would be surprising and somewhat disappointing if tonight is another quiet game from him…
On defense the Canadiens are hoping that Alexei Emelin will provide a much needed boost to the lineup as he makes his playoff debut in game five. He took part in the morning skate and led the stretch while Brandon Davidson and Nikita Nesterov skated with the extras afterwards. However, Julien refused to confirm him 100% for tonight and said the decision will be made after the warmup. For all intents and purposes, Emelin will be paired with Nathan Beaulieu and the duo had been playing well in their few games together towards the end of the regular season until Emelin got injured. The Canadiens have been missing an extra physical presence on defense as the third pairing was too easy at times to play against. It really did not matter if it was Nesterov or Davidson paired with Beaulieu. The result was that it forced their top two pairings to play more minutes as Julien could not depend on a consistent effort from his third duo.
With Emelin back, it should have a positive domino effect on the rest of the defense. Andrei Markov has been forced to play well above his regular season average of 21:50 minutes. His average of 26:45 minutes of ice time through the first four games of the series is a career playoff high. Yes one overtime period is included in that number but if you take out those extra minutes he would still be averaging close to 25 minutes a game. Now that Emelin is back Markov’s load will be lessened as he will not be called upon to play as much on the penalty kill. That alone should help keep him fresher. By the end of game four Markov had five giveaways. Prior to that he had zero in the first three games.
Now all of this is only for the better if Emelin comes back and plays a simple but physical and hard game. That is when he is most effective. He has to be the one to cover for Beaulieu. As inconsistent as Beaulieu has been, he still is the Canadiens best option with Emelin. His play might be risky but the good outweighs the bad. He is also due for a good game having been noticed for all the wrong reasons thus far.
So far, the MVP of this series has been Henrik Lundqvist. He has been sensational for the Rangers and his teammates finally rewarded him with an easy night in game four as they kept the Canadiens at bay. In game four the Rangers started to make life more difficult for Carey Price and tonight the Canadiens will have to increase their net presence around Lundqvist and make it tough for him. They will also need to increase their shots on net and attempts as it will take more than the 24 fired in game four to beat the King. The Canadiens must come out and play to win. They need to demonstrate that they want it more and will not settle less. It's the playoffs. Any inch you give will be taken and then some. Which way will the pendulum swing tonight?