After a Game 1 blowout, the Montreal Canadiens will have to fight their way back into this series with a significant disadvantage: the loss of their starting goaltender.
Carey Price was injured after a collision with New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider partway through the second period of that first contest. He stayed in the net for the remainder of the frame but was pulled in favour of backup Peter Budaj for the third. Michel Therrien confirmed to Arpon Basu of NHL.com that the star goalie is now finished for the series.
This gives the Rangers a major opportunity to put Montreal in a terrible position. If New York wins Monday, it will head home with a 2-0 series lead.
Rangers' Top Storylines
Will the Rangers be able to put Sunday's emotion behind them?
Even for professional athletes, there are things that matter more than playing the games. On Sunday, the Rangers attended the funeral of star forward Martin St. Louis' mother France, and afterward, it was clear from head coach Alain Vigneault's comments that the event had been a moving one for the team.
The Canadian Press quoted the coach as saying:
The New York Rangers family has been touched by a little Quebec family in a deep, profound way. It was a very emotional, very moving time for our team to have the opportunity to be there and share that with Marty and his family. Marty took the podium and shared some incredible moments. It was a deep message. It was a challenging day for us.
Will Chris Kreider or Henrik Lundqvist face repercussions?
The loss of Price is a major blow to Montreal, and the Habs may not let it go easily. There is an eye-for-eye mentality at times in hockey, and in this case, there are two logical targets for the Canadiens: Kreider, whose charge at the net injured Price, and Lundqvist, the goalie at the other end of the rink.
Mike Murphy of Blueshirt Banter argues that Kreider didn't have much choice in going hard into Price:
It's my humble opinion that Kreider had a split second to choose what to do; follow through on the shot (which was almost certainly the only thing on his mind) or make every effort to make a full hockey stop or avoid Price and the Habs net. Hockey is the fastest game in the world. Chris Kreider was going at near his top speed and didn't have his legs underneath him. Can a 6'3" 230 lb. Kreider stop in that amount of space after being tripped? I'm not a physicist or someone who has much experience with skating very fast and being tripped several feet away from the goal crease but my opinion is that he does not have enough space to do anything but go into the net.
However, various Canadiens personnel (Brandon Prust, Michel Therrien) have said publicly that Kreider didn't do enough to avoid Price, which may mean that there is some attempt to make the Rangers pay for the incident.
Even if there is no concerted effort by the Habs (and with an important game on the line, there probably won't be), there can be no doubt that the team will finish hits on Kreider any chance it gets and likely will have little hesitation at going hard to the Rangers' net when opportunity arises.
In two previous series, the Rangers came away victorious from Game 1 but then fell flat in Game 2 and ended up eking out series wins only after a long seven-game process. They have now been given a golden opportunity to wrap this series up quickly and advance to what will be a very tough Stanley Cup Final. They need to take advantage of that.
Canadiens' Top Storylines
Who plays in place of Price?
Montreal imploded in the third period of Game 1, but even so, backup Peter Budaj didn't inspire confidence by allowing three goals on eight shots. His career 0.903 save percentage doesn't help either.
Therrien refused to commit to starting Budaj, saying only that he had already made a decision and reporters would see at game time. The team's third-string goaltender is Dustin Tokarski, who's coming off a 0.919 save-percentage season in the AHL.
Can whoever plays deliver a strong performance?
It will be a tall order for either Budaj or Tokarski to live up to Price's work, as neither is a franchise goalie. The question is whether one of the two can provide solid-enough goaltending for Montreal to have a chance at winning.
Working in Budaj's favour are three solid years as a backup in Montreal (54 games, 0.910 save percentage). If he can play up to that level, the Habs have a chance. Unfortunately, Budaj's career number in the regular season (0.903) is significantly lower, and he's been brutal in mop-up work in postseasons past (seven games, 0.843 save percentage).
Tokarski was excellent in a brief NHL stint this season (three games, 0.946 save percentage), but he has a career 0.912 AHL save percentage, which isn't nearly good enough.
One of the big problems in Game 1 for the Habs was a lack of discipline. Montreal racked up four times the penalty minutes that New York did and ended up surrendering three power-play goals. With the temptation in place to exact payback for the Price injury—or at the very least, to show an increased willingness to protect their goalie—it is important that Canadiens players not get into a situation where they are constantly skating to the penalty box.
Rangers 3, Canadiens 1
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report; follow him on Twitter for more of his work.
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