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.
Henrik 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.
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.
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 Rick 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.
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 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.
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.