NEW YORK -- It's been a long time coming, but the New York Rangers are ready for their home opener Monday against the Montreal Canadiens. It may have taken a month and nine regular-season games, but the Rangers admitted there was extra energy being home at Madison Square Garden, which underwent the final stages of a $1 billion makeover that necessitated the long road trip.
"I think everybody has been waiting for this day for a long time. It's great to be here," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "We had a good meeting this morning. The guys are ready."
The Rangers are also riding some momentum coming back into their home building. Franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist returns to the lineup after missing the past two games with an undisclosed injury. The team is also coming off a spirited road win over the Detroit Red Wings in which it overcame a 2-1 third-period deficit before Derick Brassard scored in overtime. That big win set the stage for a welcome homecoming at the Garden, where the Rangers will play five of their next six games.
"It's still the Garden. It still feels like home. It looks great," Lundqvist said. "It's a great feeling to be in here and in the room. Hopefully we can start playing right away and build some confidence. It's always important to play well at home and gain a lot of confidence from that."
Keeping in the spirit of new looks, the Canadiens will feature some noticeable changes to their lineup after going 1-3-0 on their recent four-game homestand. Veteran defenseman Douglas Murray will make his Canadiens debut after dealing with a lower-body injury since training camp. Montreal had alternated between rookie defensemen Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi, and recently assigned both to the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Hamilton. The hope is Murray can bring a veteran presence that was previously lacking from the Canadiens' blue line.
"We're happy to have the chance to finally see him play. It was difficult for him since training camp with the injury," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "He's 100 percent. Don't forget it's only his first game, so he's a little behind. But we're ready to be patient with him."
The Canadiens also revealed that forward Travis Moen will be out at least a week with an upper-body injury. In his place, recent Hamilton call-up Louis Leblanc will get a chance to showcase some of the skill that inspired Montreal to select him in the first round of the 2009 draft. Leblanc has four goals in his last three games in Hamilton, and was skating Monday on a line with David Desharnais and Rene Bourque.
"This is an opportunity for him that he's got to take," Therrien said. "His result on the ice will dictate how long he is going to be with us."
Backup goaltender Peter Budaj will start in net for Montreal.
Here are the projected lineups for the Canadiens and Rangers: