By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
Playing without Rick Nash for the first time this season the Rangers lacked conistent jump and precision in their game Tuesday night, eventually falling to the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 at Madison Square Garden. The loss ended the Blueshirts three-game homestand on a sour note, and dropped their overall record to 8-6-1 on the season. The win was Montreal's fifth in a row.
Nash was scratched due to an unspecified health-related reason. Head coach John Tortorella would not divulge the reason as to why Nash was unable to play, but it was clear the Rangers missed the presence of their leading scorer.
The Rangers and Canadiens entered the third period deadlocked at a goal apiece after 40 minutes of tight-checking, defense-first hockey by both teams. But Montreal cashed in on a rare odd-man rush early in the third period to snag their first lead of the game, 2-1.
Rookie Alex Galchenyuk---who seven weeks ago, along with Rangers rookie J.T. Miller, helped Team USA win the gold medal at the 2013 World Junior Championships---jammed home his second goal of the season just 1:48 into the final period. Former Ranger Brandon Prust, in his first game at The Garden and against his ex-teammates since signing with the Canadiens as a free agent last summer, earned the primary assist on the go-ahead goal. After taking a lead pass down-low on right wing, Prust centered into the low slot where Galchenyuk put it past Henrik Lundqvist.
The home team had a couple of prime chances to tie the game, but Carl Hagelin sent a backhander wide of an open cage with Montreal goalie Carey Price out of the play midway through the third period, and Brian Boyle put a shorthanded rebound off the post after an initial drive by Ryan Callahan with 6:10 left to play.
Defenseman Raphael Diaz scaled one from his own end of the ice into the empty Rangers net with 1:06 remaining to put the finishing touches on Montreal's road win.
Anton Stralman had opened the scoring for the Rangers at 12:29 of the second period, netting his second goal of the season off a Derek Stepan cross-crease pass from left to right. The goal came during a delayed penalty call after Marian Gaborik was sent flying to the ice, and Hagelin also earned an assist, extending his point-scoring streak to five consecutive games.
However Montreal---which managed only ten shots through the first two periods---pulled even with 1:15 remaining in the second on Max Pacorietty's second goal in as many nights, and second of the season.
The two teams managed just eight shots combined in a very quiet first period, with the Rangers outshooting Montreal 5-3. The game's first shot did not come until 8 minutes 23 seconds had elapsed---and it was a soft deflected floater off the stick of Hagelin that was easily scooped up by Price.
Montreal did not record its first shot until 3:49 were remaining in the opening period, and it was the former Blueshirt Prust who was credited with the shot on a wraparound that was stopped by Lundqvist.
Rookie Chris Kreider replaced Nash in the Rangers lineup, skating on the left side of Brad Richards and Callahan much of the night. Brandon Mashinter made his Rangers debut, replacing the injured Darroll Powe, and made the most of his limited fourth-line ice time by playing a very physical game.