New York ended a pair of slumps on Saturday as Rick Nash scored his first goal of the playoff and Henrik Lundqvist, historically bad at the Bell Centre, shut the door on Montreal in the Rangers' handy 7-2 rout of Montreal. It was New York's fourth straight playoff win since facing elimination against Pittsburgh.
Seven different Rangers scored, and defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who had just three points in his previous 14 playoff games, put up four (a goal and three assists) on Saturday. An inspiration to his team for playing well despite the death of his mother in the previous series, Martin St. Louis returned to the city where he grew up and scored a goal on Saturday. The entire Ranger team is scheduled to attend France St. Louis' funeral on Sunday.
The Canadiens, who gave up eight goals in a loss to Carolina in 2002, fell one short of allowing the most in a playoff game in franchise history. Goaltender Carey Price was pulled after surrendering four in two periods and may have been hurt during a goalmouth collision earlier in the contest. Coming off a game in Boston that could not have gone better, the Canadiens are now left to bounce back from one that could not have gone worse.
Here are some thoughts and observations from Game 1:
• This series features a pair of Original Six franchises that have waited a generation for a championship. The Canadiens won their last Stanley Cup by beating Wayne Gretzky’s Kings in 1993, and the Rangers ended a 54-year drought by defeating the Canucks in seven games in 1994.
• There are two subplots involving the goalies in the series. First, Price bested Lundqvist in the Olympic gold medal game in Sochi where Canada topped Sweden in the final. Game 1 marked the first time that the two netminders in that final were facing each other in the playoffs during the same year. The second was Lundqvist’s historic troubles at the Bell Centre, where his numbers (4-5-2; 3.87 GAA; .876 save pct.) coming into the series were not up to par.
• During the regular season, the Rangers managed to score just one goal in three games against the Canadiens, though they did win one of them, 1-0, on Nov. 16 at the Bell Centre. Ryan Callahan scored the only tally that night for New York several months before the Rangers traded him to Tampa Bay for St. Louis, so not a single Ranger in the lineup had scored a goal against Montreal this season. New York changed that quickly...
• The Rangers' makeshift line of St. Louis, Carl Hagelin and Dominic Moore scored first after Derick Brassard took a big hit from Habs defenseman Mike Weaver that sent him to the dressing room. The Rangers re-shuffled their forwards after Brassard’s departure and cycled very effectively in Montreal’s end before Moore’s blind pass found St. Louis unimpeded on Price’s doorstep for an easy tap-in at 4:35 of the first period. Just two minutes later, Moore slid a pass behind his back that went off the stick of a changing Ryan McDonagh, who failed to stuff the puck into the net, but Mats Zuccarello followed up and beat Price to make it 2-0. The Rangers' defenders jumped into the play all game and their quick bursts seemed to catch Montreal’s defense by surprise.
• The Habs were really on wobbly ground after Ranger forward Chris Kreider slid into Price’s right leg as he was foiled on a breakaway in the second period. Price finished the period, but was replaced by Peter Budaj for the third. Price's condition will be a factor in Game 2.
• Montreal upped its pace a bit for the last half of the first period but couldn’t break through until Rene Bourque’s goal at 12:38 of the second. Then the Rangers' speed took over and produced the next two goals, by Kreider and Brad Richards in the final 61 seconds of the period. Kreider is one of the swiftest players in the league. Rewind to the beginning of the play on which he outraced the field. See how many Canadiens (Tomas Plekanec, Danny Briere, Alexei Emelin and Andrei Markov) were between him and Price when the Rangers started bringing the puck back up the ice. Kreider sped past them all, then took a pass from Derek Stepan and beat the goalie on the stick side to make it 3-1.
• On the fourth goal, we saw the Hyde, not the Jekyll, of P.K. Subban -- the side that gets cute and turns the puck over. Subban lost control as he was working his way up the ice, spun around and, as he was falling away from the play, tried to go behind his back to clear the puck up the ice. Rangers defenseman Marc Staal intercepted it and left it for Zuccarello, who fed Brad Richards for the score.
• Throughout the second period, Lundqvist was on top of his game, making strong glove saves against Brandon Prust and Lars Eller. He faced only 22 shots during the afternoon, but the Rangers made sure he had no problems breaking his slump in a building that was quiet for most of the day.
• Budaj started the third period and surrendered goals to McDonagh, Stepan and Nash in the first 4:36. The seven goals were the most a Ranger team had scored in a playoff game since Apr. 17, 2007. Nobody was happier than Nash, a former 40-goal man who finally found the net on his 54th shot of the postseason. That crash you heard was the piano that just fell off his back.
• The Canadiens took eight of the game’s first nine penalties. Three went to Prust on the same play. Montreal must be more disciplined in Game 2.
• The Canadiens seemed wrung out by their seven-game series against their archrivals from Boston in the previous round. It has been a while, but if they want a note of optimism, they could always look back at 1979, the famous too-many-men year, when Montreal topped Boston in seven draining games in the semifinals and then sleepwalked through the first game of the Stanley Cup Final. Their opponent that year was the Rangers. New York easily beat Ken Dryden and Montreal, 4-1, in the afternoon opener and even jumped to a 2-0 lead in Game 2. That’s when the Canadiens awoke from their slumber, took the second game, 6-2, and the series, 4-1. This is not a prediction of a winner, by any means, but count on the Habs to play much better on Monday.
The Rangers and Canadiens will meet in Game 2 at 8 p.m. ET on Monday night in Montreal (NBCSN, CBC, RDS).