New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens: Biggest Takeaways from Game 1
After the Montreal Canadiens finished off the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of their second-round series, there was a belief around the Bell Center that the Canadiens would have a great chance to get to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1993.
The Habs had slain the league's Presidents' Trophy winners and finished the job in Boston. Surely, the New York Rangers were not going to stand in their way.
But the Rangers did not get that version of the Eastern Conference Final script. Instead, they skated into Montreal with full hearts and no hesitation. They jumped on top early thanks to Martin St. Louis and Mats Zuccarello and never looked back in coming up with a 7-2 road victory in Game 1.
Everything the Canadiens had done well against Boston evaporated against New York.
The Habs will likely return to form in Game 2 of the series. However, Alain Vigneault's New York Rangers dominated Game 1. Here are the biggest takeaways from the game.
Precise Passing Right from the Start
The Rangers certainly looked at the videotape of the Montreal vs. Boston series, and they saw the Canadiens put on a defensive clinic. The Canadiens were regularly in the passing and shooting lanes, and that prevented the Bruins from getting top-scoring opportunities on a regular basis.
The Rangers did not care about Montreal's previous defensive success. They attacked the Habs with precise passes in front of Carey Price, which allowed them to get control of the game early.
Martin St. Louis, who will bury his mother in Quebec on Sunday, got the Rangers started when he took a picture-perfect pass from Dominic Moore and easily beat Price at the 4:35 mark of the first period.
Less than two minutes later, Moore made a no-look, between-the-legs pass to Mats Zuccarello, who chipped the puck into an unguarded net as Price had been faked out of position.
The Rangers completed perfect passes in high-traffic areas and finished off their opportunities. That put the Canadiens in deep trouble, and they could not recover.
Habs Simply Not Ready After Emotional Series
Montreal had two remarkable efforts in Games 6 and 7 against Boston to come from behind and win the series against its storied rival.
Perhaps it should have been obvious that the Canadiens would not be at their best in Game 1 against the Rangers, who had an extra day of rest prior to the series.
The Canadiens had used every bit of their mental and physical energy to play two sensational closing games in the second round. Goalie Carey Price had allowed just one goal in the final 120 minutes, and he appeared to be drained when he took the ice against New York.
As a result, he stopped just 16 of the 20 shots he faced in 40 minutes before he was replaced by backup Peter Budaj. The backup goalie allowed another three goals.
“We were not ready mentally,’’ Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien told Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post. “Physically, we were not ready to compete for a game like that."
McDonagh the Magnificent Dominates the Habs
Ryan McDonagh has earned a reputation as a hard-hitting defenseman who can make a solid contribution on the offensive end when he's given the opportunity.
However, Alain Vigneault does not usually look to McDonagh for offensive leadership. He has players like Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Martin St. Louis and Mats Zuccarello for that.
But while the Rangers got many offensive contributions in Game 1, no player did more than McDonagh. He scored a third-period goal and also had three assists. He had never had more than two points in any previous postseason game.
His goal came on a third-period blast through backup goalie Peter Budaj, and his passing throughout the game was sharp and accurate.
McDonagh joined Brian Leetch (twice), Brad Park and Dave Maloney as the only Rangers defensemen to score four points in a playoff game.
Habs Hope History Repeats Itself
The Canadiens earned home ice in the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers because they edged them by four points in the regular season.
While the Rangers were impressive in beating the Penguins in seven games in the second round, the Canadiens overcame a much bigger and tougher obstacle when they defeated the Boston Bruins. The Habs emptied the tank in the final two games to take the series.
As a result, they were simply spent when they took the ice at the Bell Center in Game 1. They were run out of their own rink by the aggressive and opportunistic Rangers.
While the Canadiens are trying to keep from going into panic mode, they can take comfort by looking back at their own history.
They also defeated the Bruins in 1979 in seven games. That series is considered one of the most famous and dramatic in NHL history. Guy Lafleur tied the game with a late power-play blast after the Bruins were penalized for too many men on the ice, and Yvon Lambert won it with a goal in overtime.
They met the Rangers in the following Stanley Cup Final, and the Habs were heavily favored. However, the Rangers walked into the old Montreal Forum and defeated their hosts 4-1.
It was a shocking loss, but it had no lasting impact. The Canadiens won the next four games and earned their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup.
The Habs are hoping to follow a similar pattern this year.
King Henrik Does Just Enough
The goaltender does not figure to be a key factor when a team wins by a 7-2 margin. The Rangers filled up the nets from start to finish, and it would seem that Henrik Lundqvist was not one of the architects of the win.
However, he was on top of his game in stopping 22 of 24 shots. He was very sharp in the second period when the Canadiens could have tied the score or perhaps taken the lead.
The Rangers took a 2-0 lead into the middle period, but the Habs pushed the pace throughout the period. Rene Bourque drew Montreal within one goal when he chipped a shot past Lundqvist at the 12:38 mark.
That goal turned on the Bell Center crowd, and the Habs pushed hard to get the tying goal. Lundqvist refused to allow the Canadiens to get it, and the Rangers put the game away with goals by Chris Kreider and Brad Richards in the final 1:01 of the second period.
Lundqvist has not had a lot of success in Montreal. This victory was his first at the Bell Center since March 17, 2009.
"I felt good coming into the game," Lundqvist told the Canadian Press, via TSN.ca. "We haven't won too many games in this building so it's a great start."