Practice makes perfect for St. Louis

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NEW YORK -- There was Martin St. Louis on Sunday morning, working on his shot, almost from the exact same spot he'd score his team's biggest goal of the season some 12 hours later.

So often the last player off the ice in practice or at the morning skate, that's when you'll find the veteran star ripping shots at the net, again, and again, and again.

For all the kids out there dreaming to one day score a big playoff overtime goal, that's where it starts, putting in the time in practice. There are no short cuts, and never has there been for St. Louis.

"The goal he scored tonight is exactly what you see him practice every time he's on the ice, like a hundred pucks," New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said after his team's huge 3-2 OT win. "He's trying to put it right there. Made obviously a great shot on that goal."

Vigneault later added in French: "It's his favorite shot ... before and after practice, morning day skates, it's something he's always doing -- working on his shot. He got the puck at the right spot and it was quite a shot to win us the game."

Stubborn, that St. Louis, isn't he? He went upstairs, glove side on Dustin Tokarski despite the fact he had been foiled right there over the past two games by the Montreal Canadiens rookie netminder, including a breathtaking glove save in the second period when St. Louis was stopped on a breakaway. There was also the incredible glove save late in the third period of Game 3.

One more time, St. Louis figured.

"I felt I had room, and I tried to trust what I saw, and obviously I've gone to that side quite a bit the last few games and he's made some good saves on me," St. Louis said after giving the Blueshirts a 3-1 series lead. "Sometimes you just have to keep trusting what you see and I was fortunate to get it by him."

He trusted what he saw because of the thousands of practice shots he had taken in his career. He knew where that puck was headed.

You can hardly blame Tokarski on the night. All three goals he gave up were on Rangers who were in all alone. And this time, St. Louis got him.

"He's a world-class player and he had a bit of time. He picked a corner on me," Tokarski said.

For St. Louis, it was his first playoff OT goal in a decade, his previous one a Game 6 winner for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2004 Stanley Cup finals. His Sunday night heroics put his team just one more win away from the big dance.

And it continued the amazing storyline that has seen the Rangers rallying around St. Louis, who lost his mother before Mother's Day but has battled through that personal pain to play the best hockey of his season.

"Mentally, it's been impressive to go through what he's gone through, but it's also a getaway for him," said linemate and good pal Brad Richards. "He's using it and he knows there will be a time to settle down and grieve, but he's doing this on good emotions from his mom and he obviously wants big things for that situation. He's just riding it."

The winning play happened because the Canadiens had about a million chances to clear the puck but couldn't. Carl Hagelin, who opened the scoring with a short-handed goal, spotted St. Louis across the ice and fed him for the winner, which electrified Madison Square Garden.

The Swedish winger was surprised St. Louis was so open.

"Yeah, I was," he said. "I looked up and I had no clue he was going to hang out over there on the right side, so I just threw the puck over there. There was no one in between us. It was an easy pass and he had a lot of time once he got it, too. He walked in and ripped it, top cheese."

It put an end to the most evenly played game of the series. The Habs were just as full value on this night and were inches away from making this a tied series when  Alex Galchenyuk 's shot from the slot hit the crossbar with around three minutes left in the third period. That close.

"I'm disappointed, I could have ended the game right there and it would have been 2-2 heading back to Montreal," said Galchenyuk, who played a terrific game. "Unfortunately, we lost, but I can't overthink about that play. I have to try to make a difference next game."

Once P.K. Subban tied it 2-2 with a power-play blast two minutes into the third period, the Canadiens really had the better chances the rest of the way, including in overtime. But  Henrik Lundqvist  once again stood tall in net for the Rangers, who also overcame giving the Habs eight power-play chances on the night.

"We played a pretty decent game, and we've just got to keep building," said Canadiens captain Brian Gionta. "As this series has gone on, we've gotten better, we've been able to get more chances. Obviously, we would have liked to get that win, but we're not out of this yet."

No, but you have the feeling that the Canadiens' best shot at winning this series was responding to the Rangers' two wins at the Bell Centre by sweeping Games 3-4 at Madison Square Garden. Just imagine the momentum going back to Montreal and the crowd Tuesday night in the NHL's most passionate building.

Instead, it's a crushing loss for Montreal, one that came before the Canadiens scored only once on those eight power plays. For the Rangers, it's a big-time swing in the series.

"Very emotional," said Richards. "Overtime games bring that out any way. To come home and not [win] would've been devastating. To go back up there without getting a win at home, two tight games that could've gone either way, still got a lot of work to do, but I'd rather it be 3-1 than 2-2, so very emotional when I saw that go in."

For the Canadiens, how many more times can they dig deep again? Yes, two of the next three games are at the Bell Centre, but this is a mighty daunting task.

"But it's not over yet; there's lots of hockey left to be played and we've just got to be prepared to go home and have a good game," said Subban, who played a crazy 33:16 on the night. "I've been down 3-1 in a series before and the tide can turn real quick. We're prepared to go home and play a good game."

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