NEW YORK, N.Y. - The calendar said March. The intensity and atmosphere that filled Madison Square Garden suggested April or May.
It's been two years since the New York Rangers have been in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but a visit from the Montreal Canadiens gave them a sneak preview of what could soon be in store.
Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik and Brian Boyle scored 1:07 apart in the Rangers' highest-scoring first period in more than 11 years, and New York held on for a key 6-3 victory over the Canadiens on a feisty Friday night.
The Rangers and Canadiens, fighting for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference with three weeks left, staged a post-season-like show at the boisterous Garden that held large pockets of vocal, enthusiastic Montreal fans.
They were disappointed early and often as the Rangers took control. New York, in seventh place, moved within five points of sixth-place Montreal with 10 games left for both teams. More importantly, the Rangers are four points ahead of Buffalo and Carolina.
"You can't rest for a second," Callahan said. "Our emphasis in here is to look ahead. This was an important game. We can't have a let up here. We have to keep going."
Henrik Lundqvist held off the Canadiens late and finished with 22 saves to reach 30 wins for the sixth straight season—an NHL record from the start of a career. Lundqvist was bowled over by Benoit Pouliot with 3:39 left, taking a forearm to the head, but remained in and helped New York win for the fifth time in six games.
Lundqvist was left with a stiff neck that required lengthy treatment after the game.
"I haven't really seen the play or know what happened," Lundqvist said. "I was always clear, and we checked the X-rays and that was good."
It is unclear whether he will play Sunday at Pittsburgh.
"My goal is to be ready," he said.
On the opening faceoff, New York's Brandon Prust and Montreal's Travis Moen immediately dropped their gloves after a brief discussion and began throwing haymakers. That merely set the stage for the Rangers' five-goal first period.
"It wasn't in the script," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "The building was alive. You could feel it. When you stepped on the ice, and the anthems ... Prust felt that was the right thing to do."
Artem Anisimov scored on a breakaway at 5:28, but Montreal tied it 1:43 later when defenceman P.K. Subban answered. After that, it was all New York.
Dan Girardi started the barrage with 9:35 left with a rebound goal. Callahan made it 3-1 with 2:51 remaining, Gaborik followed 32 seconds later, and Boyle closed the spurt with 1:44 to go, sending beleaguered goalie Carey Price to the bench after he faced only 12 shots.
Vinny Prospal scored on the ensuing power play to make it 6-3 with 2:45 remaining.
The five goals in the first made it the Rangers' highest-scoring period since they netted six in the second on March 17, 2007, against Boston. New York hadn't scored as many as five in the first since notching six against Los Angeles on Dec. 15, 1999.
The Rangers managed to salvage one win in the season series with Montreal after dropping the first three and scoring a total of three goals in those losses.
"It was a big game for both teams," Canadiens captain Brian Gionta said. "That's why it's tough to take."
New York has found the home mojo it has been searching for all season. The Rangers have won three straight at the Garden by a combined score of 19-6, improving their home mark to 17-16-3.
Former Rangers goalie Alex Auld gave the Canadiens a chance for a comeback, stopping 18 of 19 shots after replacing Price, who beat Tampa Bay at home in a shootout on Thursday.
"You just go in and you want to try to stop the bleeding and see if you can change the momentum a little bit," Auld said. "We did a really good job in not getting down and not getting too discouraged."
The tide turned in the Rangers' favour on Callahan's flukey goal that made it 2-1. Callahan smacked the puck in front off of Gionta. The puck popped up in the air, struckMontreal defenceman James Wisniewski in the back and bounded over Price and just over the goal line. It landed on edge with just enough white ice showing for the goal to be confirmed by video replay.
Montreal chipped away on Wisniewski's fourth goal 4:13 into the second and Gionta's tip-in of a shot by Wisniewski during a power play 54 seconds into the third that made it 5-3.
"It's encouraging in a sense, but disappointing," Gionta said. "If we didn't fall asleep for three or four minutes in the first period, it would've been a close game."
Notes: The Rangers hadn't scored five goals in a period against the Canadiens since the second on Jan. 10, 1986. ... LW Sean Avery was scratched from the Rangers' lineup for the second time in three games. ... Montreal D Hal Gill missed his second straight game due to illness. Forwards Tomas Plekanec and Jeff Halpern also sat out for the second night in a row because of injuries sustained this week.