Anger was the overriding emotion for the Rangers after Game 3.
They seethed at Brandon Prust’s unpenalized hit on Derek Stepan. They were irritated they could only solve Dustin Tokarski twice. And they were infuriated that the Canadiens left the Garden with a 3-2 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night after Alex Galchenyuk’s goal 1:12 into overtime.
The Rangers lead the best-of-seven series 2-1, with Game 4 Sunday night at the Garden. The Rangers have never swept the Canadiens in a best-of-seven series.
“It’s tough luck,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who finished with 21 saves but could not stop Galchenyuk on the goalstep. “It’s obviously extremely disappointing to lose this one. It’s going to be tough for a couple hours.”
The normally even-keeled team expressed resentment that none of the four officials on the ice — referees Marc Joannette and Kevin Pollock, and linesmen Scott Driscoll and Steve Miller — saw Prust’s hit.
Prust caught Stepan with an upper-body check on the Rangers center’s second shift. Stepan missed six minutes of game action before returning midway through the first period.
“They missed it,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said.
On his next shift, Prust was steamrolled from behind by Daniel Carcillo, then fought Derek Dorsett. As Prust and Dorsett squared off, Carcillo elbowed a linesman in the face and was assessed a game misconduct.
“He can’t do that, obviously,” Vigneault said. “We’ll let the league handle that. I believe if a penalty would have been called on Prust, it probably wouldn’t have happened, but there is nothing we can do about it.”
Neither Prust nor Carcillo were available for comment. Stepan spoke, saying he believed the hit was “late” and that he “would certainly hope the league would look at it.”
Naturally, the Canadiens disagreed.
“I’m not concerned,” Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien said of the Department of Player Safety reviewing the hit. “No.”
The Rangers — who had collectively stressed the importance of having a better start than they did in Game 2 — surged following the incidents. By the end of the first period, the Rangers led 1-0, had outshot the Canadiens 14-4 and out-attempted them 25-12.
It was an opening period in which the Rangers operated with surgical precision, even if Carl Hagelin’s goal was less than textbook. Hagelin banged Martin St. Louis’ rebound past Tokarski at 15:18 of the first to put the Rangers up 1-0.
That the lead wasn’t bigger was due to Tokarski, who, his second start in the Stanley Cup playoffs, made 35 saves.
“Phenomenal,” Therrien said. “Without Tokarski’s performance, probably the result would have been different.”
The 24-year-old kept his team in the game, before Andrei Markov drew the Canadiens even 3:21 into the second period with an off-wing drive that beat Lundqvist five hole.
Despite chances back-and-forth spanning 33:37 between the second and third periods, neither team scored until Danny Briere bounced a shot off Ryan McDonagh and into the net.
The Canadiens had a 2-1 lead, which lasted for exactly 3:34.
Trailing 2-1 with 28.1 seconds left in regulation, Kreider was credited with a goal when Dan Girardi’s pass deflected off his stick before ricocheting off of Alexei Emelin’s back skate and into the net, sending the old house on 33rd Street into a state of delirium.
“It was a big goal,” Brad Richards said. “We played a real good hockey game tonight. We did what we wanted to do. We had numerous scoring chances and if we keep playing the same way we will give ourselves a chance to win.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.