Speed killed the Montreal Canadiens in every way imaginable Saturday.
The New York Rangers made the most of their three days' rest before the start of the conference finals as they blitzed the Canadiens 7-2 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final at the Bell Centre in Montreal. The Rangers were the fresher-looking team throughout the contest, while the Canadiens were moving as if their legs were filled with cement.
Chris Kreider's lightning-quick skates devastated the Canadiens twice during the second period.
It was merely 2-1 Rangers in the dying moments of the second period when Kreider stormed past Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin in the neutral zone for a 1-on-1 chance with Carey Price. Kreider snapped a shot past Price on the stick side, making it 3-1 with 1:01 remaining in the period.
Brad Richards made it 4-1 just 49 seconds later, and the rout was on.
But there was a game-changing and perhaps series-changing play earlier in the second period that was the result of Kreider hitting warp speed.
Kreider jumped around Emelin for another breakaway (maybe that's not a great matchup for the Canadiens) but was denied by Price. It resulted in Emelin knocking Kreider off-balance and into Price's right knee, which left the goaltender down on the ice for a moment. Price's knee absorbed the force of Kreider's body and his skate appeared to get jammed against the post, perhaps exacerbating the injury.
Price remained in the game but was pulled to start the third period, perhaps as a precautionary move by coach Michel Therrien, who of course didn't offer any specifics on a potential injury.
If Price can't take the ice for Game 2 or is far less than 100 percent, this series may have ended midway through Game 1.
#Habs Therrien was asked directly if Price would be ready to go on Monday and didn't answer.— Chantal (@habsgirl4life) May 17, 2014
Therrien: "There was nothing to gain from putting Carey out for the third period. It was to protect him." #Habson690— Conor McKenna (@mckennaconor) May 17, 2014
In their second-round upset against the Boston Bruins, the Canadiens were able to neutralize a team that relied more on the cycle and physical play and not so much on speed. The reports of the Bruins being a slow team were greatly exaggerated, but they don't rival the overall quickness possessed by the Rangers.
Kreider's goal is the most glaring example of the Canadiens being unable to handle the Rangers' speed, but there were signs of it all over the ice.
Canadiens' slow defense really been exposed. Especially Markov and Emelin. Can't keep up with Rangers' speed.— Tal Pinchevsky (@TalPinch) May 17, 2014
Off a neutral-zone face-off in the first period, defenseman Ryan McDonagh (four points) strode effortlessly through the middle of the ice to generate a chance. There were times when Carl Hagelin and Benoit Pouliot either used their speed to help the Rangers gain the offensive zone or get to loose pucks. The strength of the Rangers' forecheck is its speed, and they did a terrific job of disrupting many of Montreal's zone exits and entries.
Rangers winning with neutral zone speed/transition today. Also taking care of the puck, limiting Montreal break-ins— Patrick Kearns (@PatrickKearns) May 17, 2014
Martin St. Louis' goal that opened the scoring wasn't the result of speed through the neutral zone, but instead quick skating in tight areas. The Rangers moved the puck high, then low, then high, all the while forwards were twisting Canadiens' defenders in knots. Dominic Moore found St. Louis open in front for the relatively easy goal.
Where the Bruins were ruthlessly machine-like, the Rangers are effortlessly gliding around the Canadiens like a child skating with a torch on an empty sheet.
#Habs Desharnais on if team suffered a bit of an emotional letdown today: "Oh, for sure."— Chantal (@habsgirl4life) May 17, 2014
This is just one game and an emotional letdown from the Canadiens in Game 1 isn't all that surprising after winning in seven games against their hated archrivals. Considering the Rangers are winless in their past 13 games while leading in a playoff series, the Canadiens have no reason to panic. This was a one-goal game through nearly 39 minutes, so don't let the Rangers' three power-play goals in the third period deceive you too much.
And it's not as if the Canadiens aren't a quick team, either. That speed could easily resurface for Game 2 on Monday.
But there's something to be said for matchups and this doesn't look like a great one for the Canadiens.
All statistics via NHL.com.