Back in November when he was les than two months into his tenure as the new head coach of the Rangers, Alain Vigneault told his team that there are no ghosts at the Bell Centre in Montreal despite the team's struggles to win there in recent years. The Rangers proceeded to win that mid-November game 1-0; and on Saturday afternoon the Rangers proved for certain that any bad karma is most definitely in the past, opening up the 2014 Eastern Conference Final with a convincing 7-2 victory over the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
"AV brought it up (before the series)..I think he's addressed it the last couple times we played here," Henrik Lundqvist said with a laugh after the game. "Obviously we haven't won that many games in this building, so it's good to get a great start ( in the series)."
Lundqvist, who watched Cam Talbot start and star in two regular-season games against the Canadiens this year, had not started a game in Montreal since January of 2012, and had not won in this building since 2009. However, just like with his teammates, Lundqvist played in the present and was unconcerned about the past. He stopped 20 of 22 shots, putting the Rangers three wins away from a Stanley Cup Final appearance.
"It's been a week of emotions," stated Lundqvist. "Playing in the playoffs is so intense, you are trying to perform at a really high level; and at the same time we have a teammate (Martin St. Louis) going through a really tough time, and you try and be there for support. It makes you think about a lot of things, not only hockey. We've come together and worked for one another."
After a dominating start to the game in which New York outscored Montreal 2-0 in the first period, the Canadiens turned the tables on the Rangers in the middle twenty minutes, cutting the visitor's lead in half. However Lundqvist was at his best making nine crucial saves as Montreal took the game to New York; and his left arm save to deny Brandon Prust off a left-wing 2-on-1 rush late in the period set forth a chain of events that turned Game One decidedly in the Rangers' favor.
Following the save on Prust, the Rangers won the defensive zone faceoff and Rick Nash sprung Chris Kreider with a pass on left wing. Kreider flew past the Canadiens defense and beat Montreal goaltender Carey Price stick side with 61 seconds to play in the middle period, giving New York a 3-1 lead and quieting the at-times deafening crowd at the Bell Centre.
The Rangers then scored again, this time with 11.6 seconds remaining in the second, as Brad Richards chipped a shot off of Price and over the goal line to make it 4-1. Mats Zuccarello made a pretty deke behind the net before passing to the wide-open Richards, forcing Price out of position. It was the last shot Price--who earlier in the second was shaken up on a goal-mouth collision with Kreider--would face as he would be replaced by Peter Budaj to start the third period.
"I don't know if it's a backbreaker, but it's an important part of the game, up 2-1 late and then all of a sudden it's 4-1 with 11 seconds to go," noted Richards, whose goal was his team-high fifth of the playoffs.
Clearly deflated, the Canadiens took a string of penalties to begin the third period and the Rangers capitalized again and again against the defenseless Budaj. Ryan McDonagh ripped a power play shot past Budaj at 1:28; Derek Stepan converted on a 5-on-3 power play at 4:11; and Nash scored his first goal of the playoffs just 25 seconds later to make it 7-1 New York.
McDonagh, originally a 2007 draft pick of the Canadiens before being traded to New York two years later, established a career playoff high with four points, adding three assists to his second goal of this post-season. Zuccarello recorded three points with a goal and two assists; while Nash, Kreider, Stepan, and Martin St. Louis all had a goal and an assist. In all, eleven Rangers found their way on to the scoresheet in Game One on Saturday.
"We're feeling good that we got a good start to the series," stated McDonagh ho played a team-high 24:01. "For us, we can't fall into the trap here. This is a real good team and there's going to be a real big game coming up (Monday) and they'll be feeding off their crowd, so we're gonna have to be ready."
In the early stages of the game it was veteran Dominic Moore--the former Montreal Canadien--who stepped up in a big way after Derick Brassard was knocked out of the game after playing just two shifts totaling 35 seconds due to an unspecified injury. After Brassard was leveled by defenseman Mike Weaver and left the ice for the dressing room, Moore double-shifted and assisted on the Rangers first two goals of the afternoon.
Moore's gorgeous behind the back pass found St. Louis wide open to Price's right and the star winger--whose mother's wake took place on Friday and her funeral will be held outside Montreal on Sunday--made no mistake netting his fourth of these playoffs 4:35 into the first period. Zuccarello was the beneficiary of some neat passing from McDonagh and Moore less than two minutes later and gave New York a 2-0 lead at 6:27 with another in-close goal, his fourth of the playoffs.
"We have good depth, that's been the strength of our team all the way through," noted Moore, who now has six points in 15 post-season games this spring. "We wanted to come out with a good start. We had a few days off and we wanted to make sure we kept it simple and we were fortunate that we got a few good bunces early."
As for Brassard, he did not return to the game after leaving early in the first period. Neither he nor his head coach would divulge the nature of his injury, saying only that Brassard is listed officially as "day-to-day".
"It's nothing serious, I'm day-to-day," said Brassard on his way to the team bus after the victory. "Hopefully I'll be ready to play on Monday."
Rene Bourque scored Montreal's first goal at 12:38 of the second when his chip shot deflected off McDonagh's stick and up and over Lundqvist. That goal came shortly after separate outstanding glove saves Lundqvist made on both P.K. Subban and Max Pacorietty. Lars Eller added a shorthanded goal with 4:38 remaining in the third period.
The seven goals scored by New York was the most by the team in a playoff game since Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Atlanta Thrashers on April 17, 2007, a 7-0 Blueshirts victory. McDonagh's four points were the most by a Rangers defenseman in a playoff game since Brian Leetch notched four in Game Four of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals.
The Rangers are now 3-0 in the three Game Ones they have played in the 2014 post-season. However they lost the second game of both their series with the Flyers and the Penguins, and understand that they will face a more determined and better Canadiens team Monday night at the Bell Centre then the one they opposed on the series opener Saturday.
"We got one win out of the four we need," stated Richards postgame. "It's only get tougher as we move along here."