(SportsNetwork.com) - An eventful Game 3 ended with Montreal's first victory of the Eastern Conference finals. The Canadiens hope to even the series Sunday when they visit the New York Rangers for Game 4 at Madison Square Garden.
After losing the first two tests of this best-of-seven series on home ice, the Habs rebounded with Thursday's 3-2 overtime victory in New York City to cut the series deficit to 2-1. Alex Galchenyuk supplied the winner just 72 seconds into the extra session, capping a fierce battle that eventually led to two players being suspended by the league.
This playoff battle -- the first between Montreal and New York since 1996 -- seemed to be lacking in bad blood at the start but that has changed over the course of three meetings. It began with the injury in Game 1 to Montreal's Carey Price, who was lost for the series after a collision with New York's Chris Kreider, and the animosity reached new levels on Thursday.
Former Ranger Brandon Prust kicked off the Game 3 hostilities with a late, blind side check on New York forward Derek Stepan just 2:45 into the opening period. No penalty was called for the hit, which resulted in a broken jaw for Stepan, but Prust was hit with a two-game suspension on Friday.
Stepan, meanwhile, is out for Game 4 after having surgery Friday to repair his broken jaw. However, Derick Brassard, who sat out Games 2 and 3 with an upper- body injury sustained on a hit from Montreal's Mike Weaver in the opener, is ready to return and will replace Stepan in the lineup tonight.
The bigger suspension went to New York's Daniel Carcillo for abuse of an official. Carcillo was whistled for charging Prust at 5:51 of the first, setting off a fight between New York's Derek Dorsett and the former Ranger. While the fight was going on, Carcillo became physical with an official and was hit with a game misconduct.
On Friday, the NHL handed down a 10-game suspension to Carcillo, who won't be eligible to return this postseason unless the Rangers stretch the Eastern Conference finals to seven games and then advance to a deciding Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Finals. Carcillo has appealed the suspension.
While the rough stuff grabbed most of the headlines after Game 3, the on-ice battle was memorable as well. Montreal went ahead 2-1 on a goal by Danny Briere with 3:02 left in the third, but Kreider scored with just 28.1 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game to OT.
The Canadiens then wasted no time in overtime, as Tomas Plekanec skated in through the middle and threw the puck on net from the left circle. Henrik Lundqvist made a left-pad save on the shot, but the rebound hit off a crashing Galchenyuk in front of the net and went in to end the game.
Lundqvist, who was pulled in favor of the extra attacker on Kreider's game- tying goal, turned away 21 shots on Thursday, but he was outdueled by Canadiens netminder Dustin Tokarski. Making just his second playoff start in place of Price, Tokarski shined in Game 3 as he stopped 35 shots to get his first postseason win.
"He's a battler and the most important thing is he's a winner," said Montreal coach Michel Therrien. "You have to give a lot of credit to the Rangers, they came out strong. We weathered the storm and played with more confidence as the game went on. But without Tokarski, we wouldn't have won that game."
Andrei Markov also scored for Montreal, which is hoping to get to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since defeating Los Angeles in 1993. That also marked the last time a club from Canada lifted the Cup.
Carl Hagelin joined Kreider as the goal-scorers for the Rangers, who were last in the Cup finals one year after the Canadiens, also taking home the chalice in a seven-game series against Vancouver in 1994.
The Rangers hope to put Game 3 behind them on Sunday, as they shoot for a 3-1 lead in the series. New York outshot the Canadiens by a 37-25 margin on Thursday, so there are some positives to draw from the club's first setback since falling behind three games to one against Pittsburgh in the conference semis.
"We played really well, but we just have to forget about it, move on, and get ready for the next one," Lundqvist said.
Game 5 is scheduled for Tuesday in Montreal. Depending on the outcome of Sunday's clash, the next meeting will either offer a chance for New York to clinch a berth in the Cup Finals or give the Habs an opportunity to take the series lead.
This is the first postseason encounter between these Original Six rivals since the opening round of the 1996 playoffs when New York won in six games. The clubs have split 14 previous playoff series, but the Rangers had won six straight postseason games against Montreal before Thursday's loss.