MONTREAL â€” It often comes down to bounces in a close NHL playoff series and Mika Zibanejad got a big one.
The New York Rangers forward was in the right spot when Chris Kreider’s shot went off Alexei Emelin’s stick and went to him for a shot into an open side at 14:22 of overtime on Thursday night.
The goal lifted the Rangers to a 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens with a chance to close out the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final on Saturday night in New York.
“Kreider came in and tried to shoot,” said Zibanejad. “I just tried to get to the net and it took a fortunate bounce for us.
“I just tried to whack it to the net and then I kind of blacked out. I can’t remember much after that.”
After that he was mobbed by his teammates for putting the finishing touch on a comeback win that saw the Rangers fall behind 2-1 in the first period but tie the game late in the second on a goal from defenceman Brady Skjei.
“It was nice,” said Zibanejad. “My first playoff overtime goal.
“It’s huge to get the win. At this point of the playoffs you don’t care who scores.”
Fourth liner Jesper Fast got his second of the series for New York, while Artturi Lehkonen scored and set up a goal by Brendan Gallagher for the Canadiens, who had a 33-26 shot advantage in regulation time but saw New York outshoot them 10-3 in overtime.
It seemed to be a matter of time before the Rangers scored.
“A guy tries to shoot and it goes off a stick right to Mika â€” that’s a summary of playoff hockey right there in overtime,” said Rangers defenceman Dan Girardi. “It’s not going to be a perfectly clean tic-tac-toe play. It’s going to be something off a stick or a body in front.
“It was nice that it was a clean goal and we were able to celebrate it and enjoy it.”
It was a game of two halves, with Montreal controlling most of the play in the first 30 minutes before the Rangers took over with a strong checking and counter-attacking game.
The Canadiens, who once led the series 2-1, will be looking for more from some of their top players in a Game 6 elimination game. Captain Max Pacioretty has taken heat for not scoring a goal yet in the series. He looked to have the game on his stick during a third period breakaway but was stopped by Henrik Lundqvist.
But Montreal coach Claude Julien said he’s not the only one.
“In order to get through this, we’ll need more from a lot of guys,” said Julien. “It’s time for certain players to elevate their game and have that confidence and desire to be better.
“There’s no doubt when you lose games and you’re behind 3-2 you can’t be satisfied as a team. There’s certain players as we all know that can give us more and hopefully that’s going to happen.”
Mats Zuccarello wasted a glittering chance to give New York the early lead when he couldn’t lift the puck over Carey Price’s pad from the doorstep in the opening minute.
Montreal struck first as Lehkonen fought off Marc Staal to put a spin-around shot off the side of the net and score on a wrap-around at 12:07.
Kevin Hayes was serving a holding call when Fast got his second of the series shorthanded, finishing a two-on-two counterattack after taking a slick feed from Zibanejad at 15:56.
Only 25 seconds later, Andrei Markov slipped a pass into the slot for an unguarded Gallagher to score on a snap shot.
Skjei tied the game at 18:28 of the second frame. Rich Nash took the puck to the net and Skjei was on the spot to bang the rebound into an open side.
Skjei is the first Rangers rookie defenceman with two playoff goals since Brian Leetch had three in 1989.
Phillip Danault hit a goalpost shorthanded in the opening minute of the third period, while Kreider had a chance to end the game 10 minutes into overtime but whiffed on a Zibanejad pass at the doorstep.
Emelin saw his first action of the series on Montreal’s third defence pairing, replacing Brandon Davidson. The Russian missed six games with an undisclosed injury.
The Rangers made no lineup changes.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press