Alex Galchenyuk scored at 1:12 of overtime to give Montreal a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers on Thursday and help the Canadiens get one foot out of their Eastern Conference final hole.
Montreal trails New York two games to one with Game 4 set for Sunday.
Henrik Lundqvist made the initial save off Tomas Plekanec but the puck bounced in off an onrushing Galchenyuk.
Daniel Briere's goal with 3:02 remaining had looked to be the Montreal winner. But with the goalie out, Chris Kreider tipped in a Dan Girardi shot from an extremely tight angle with 29 seconds left to force overtime. The puck hit the skate of Canadiens defenceman Alexei Emelin on the way in.
The late Montreal goal came after Lundqvist made a fine stop on a Thomas Vanek shot from in-close. But the puck went to Briere who tucked it back in, around the post and off Ryan McDonagh
Young goalie Dustin Tokarski came up big for the Canadiens, keeping the visitors in a game where New York held the upper hand for long periods. Given the ramifications of a third straight loss, it was a tremendously timely performance.
"Dustin Tokarski was phenomenal tonight. He's a battler, and most important thing, he's a winner," said Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien.
With less than a minute left, he came to the rescue when he got a piece of a Martin St. Louis shot.
Andrei Markov also scored for Montreal, which was outshot 36-33 during regulation time.
"We weathered the storm, and I felt our team played with more confidence as the game went on, and they got a break at the end to tie the game up, it hit Alexei's skate," said Therrien. "But without Tokarski's performance, probably the result would have been different."
Carl Hagelin opened the scoring for New York, which had won its five previous playoff games.
Emotions ran high from the opening puck drop and former Ranger Brandon Prust applied a match to the fuse just three minutes in when he laid out New York forward Derek Stepan with an elbow/shoulder to the head at the New York blue-line. The officials, watching the play develop ahead, missed the blow which left Stepan face down on the ice and sent him briefly to the locker-room.
New York came out fast and led 1-0 after a dominant 20 minutes. But the Canadiens pushed back in the second to tie it up while the 24-year-old Tokarski, given the nod again over backup Peter Budaj in the absence of the injured Carey Price, worked some magic at the other end.
Montreal had little right to be on even terms going into the third. But thanks to Tokarski they were, setting the stage for a tense finale.
"I think the series has been intense. I mean, we battled real hard in both games in Montreal and battled extremely hard tonight," said Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. "We came out and we were ready to play. We had some good looks.
"We didn't finish, obviously, as many opportunities as we would have liked to, but it was a hard-fought game. Next one's going to be the same."
Dale Weise was almost the hero for the Canadiens with five minute remaining, when an errant clearance went right to him in front of Lundqvist. But the Swedish star goalie stopped his blast from point-blank range.
Tokarski busy from get-go
Tokarski stopped 27 of 30 shots in Game 2 — his 11th NHL game and first playoff outing. And he was busy from the get-go Thursday, keeping the Habs in it with a string of saves.
His play may not have been pretty but it was effective. Tokarski gave up rebounds but his defence cleaned them up. And he grew in confidence as the game wore on.
There was less action at the other end although Lundqvist's night was challenging at times.
Coming into Game 3, Lundqvist had saved 162 of 168 shots during the Rangers' five-game playoff win streak. And he stopped 60 of the 63 shots he faced in the first two games in Montreal, won 7-2 and 3-1 by the Rangers.
Montreal coach Therrien shuffled his lines, moving winger Brian Gionta up to the second line, Weise to the third and dropping the mercurial Vanek to the fourth. Vanek came into the game with no points, one shot, two penalty minutes and a minus-3 in the first two games of the series.
The Rangers outshot Montreal 14-4 in the first period, firing pucks from all angles and using their speed to good effect. The Canadiens were lucky not to be down by more when the dust settled, with Tokarski getting the job done one way or another.
New York's early onslaught came despite winning just seven of 22 faceoffs in the period.
Max Pacioretty tested Lundqvist with the Canadiens' first shot in the first minute, coming out from the corner and shooting from in-close. It took Montreal almost 11 minutes to get a second shot on target.
'Well, he can't do that, obviously, what he did there, but we'll let the league handle that," said Vigneault. "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.' - Alain Vigneault
The missed Prust hit on Stepan led to some frontier justice with Prust and Derek Dorsett fighting after Daniel Carcillo took a run at the feisty Hab at 5:51. Carcillo had to be held back as the fight went on, prompting a game misconduct for jostling linesman Scott Driscoll.
The league looks poorly on such behaviour and Carcillo could face further sanctions.
"Well, he can't do that, obviously, what he did there, but we'll let the league handle that," said Vigneault. "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."
The amped-up crowd starting chanting "These refs suck" and enjoyed what they undoubtedly saw as karma when a Rangers shot nicked one of the referees on the ensuing power play.
A Pacioretty one-timer forced another good save from Lundqvist, on Montreal's third shot which came with some five minutes remaining in the period.
The home breakthrough came on the Rangers' 12th shot, courtesy of a two-on-one after a P.K. Subban shot hit Hagelin and created a two-on-one.
Hagelin and Martin St. Louis advanced on defenceman Josh Gorges with Hagelin delaying his pass until the last moment before feeding St. Louis for a one-timer. A sliding Georges, who was virtually on top of Tokarski, somehow stopped the puck but it bounced into the air and Hagelin knocked it in from mid-air at 15:18.
Montreal struck back at 3:20 of the second period after a seeing-eye pass across the New York zone from Pacioretty found Markov creeping in from the point and the defenceman beat Lundqvist with a low shot.
Tokarski made big saves before and after the scoring play to keep the Habs in it. He stopped St. Louis on the doorstep, somehow getting his pad and glove up to stop the Ranger sniper.
The period ended with Brendan Gallagher taking a roughing penalty with 1.7 seconds remaining after McDonagh rode him into the boards and then refused to engage the rambunctious Canadien. McDonagh was big all night for the Rangers.
The shots were 13-9 in favour of New York in the period.
Tokarski got more work in the third, sometimes triggered by sloppy work from his defence.
It was Montreal's first visit to the Garden since the Habs defeated the Rangers 2-0 in their opener