Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist have been here before. They were on opposite sides of the rink in the gold-medal game at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and they'll be facing off again when the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers play in the Eastern Conference Final.
It's the 15th time the Original Six franchises will play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs; they split the first 14 matchups, with the most recent series coming in 1996.
Each team arrived after rallying from deficits to win their second-round series in seven games.
Montreal trailed the Boston Bruins 3-2 but got outstanding goaltending from Price in the final two games. The Rangers were down 3-1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins but came together as a team, and with Lundqvist backstopping their defensive effort won three in a row to advance to the conference final for the second time in three years.
The Canadiens won two of three regular-season games but the season series saw a total of four goals scored. Price stopped 74 of 75 shots in two games, and Lundqvist allowed two goals on 27 shots in his one game against the Canadiens.
Montreal didn't have to be as big as Boston up front to advance to the conference final because it took over in Games 6 and 7 in other ways.
The play of Gallagher and Desharnais led to Max Pacioretty scoring the game-winning goal in Game 7. Pacioretty had a goal in Game 6 after scoring one goal in his first nine games.
Gallagher is tied for second on the Canadiens with four goals and nine points, and Desharnais has five points.
Thomas Vanek has been quiet at times in the playoffs but had four goals against the Bruins. Lars Eller arguably has been Montreal's most consistent forward with points in seven of 11 games and equaling Gallagher with four goals and five assists.
Tomas Plekanec had a goal and three assists against Boston and has seven points in 11 playoff games. Rene Bourque had four goals and five points through the first five games but has been held off the score sheet in the past six.
Montreal's fourth line made a big difference in Game 7 against Boston when Dale Weise, Daniel Briere and Brandon Prust combined on the first goal. Briere scored the third goal and has six points in 10 games.
The Canadiens might get Alex Galchenyuk back in this series. He hasn't played since April 9 because of a knee injury.
One of the reasons New York advanced to the Eastern Conference Final is the way coach Alain Vigneault has been able to roll four lines consistently. Of the 15 forwards to play at least one game in the first two rounds, 13 have averaged more than 10 minutes per game, topped by Martin St. Louis' 18:56.
All four lines contributed in the first two rounds, topped by the third line of Derick Brassard between Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello. Brassard scored four times in seven games against the Penguins, including game-winning goals in Games 1 and 5.
The fourth line, which has Brian Boyle and Dominic Moore with a rotating cast that has included Daniel Carcillo and Derek Dorsett, produced offensively while playing well defensively. Boyle scored the first goal in Game 7 against the Penguins.
The Rangers have gotten to this point without much from their top line of Derek Stepan between Rick Nash and Chris Kreider. Nash leads the NHL with 52 shots but has zero goals and one point in his past 12 games. Stepan had two assists in seven games. Kreider, who returned from a broken hand for the final four games of the second round, had a goal and an assist in Game 5.
The Canadiens have three pairs locked in and playing well entering the conference final.
Subban has been Montreal's best skater through two rounds. He leads it with 12 points and plays a team-high 26:45 per game. The days of coach Michel Therrien benching Subban late in games appear to be over.
Gorges is a minute-munching, defensive defenseman who has the responsibility to cover for Subban when he jumps into the offensive zone. Gorges is averaging more than 24 minutes per game in the playoffs and has been one of the Canadiens' best possession defensemen.
Mike Weaver has turned into one of Montreal's most important penalty killers after being considered an afterthought following his arrival at the NHL Trade Deadline. Nathan Beaulieu has fared well in his first two NHL games, Games 6 and 7 against Boston, showing some speed, strength and puck-moving ability in limited minutes.
The top pair of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh will draw the toughest assignment, facing Montreal's top offensive players. They've shown they're up to the challenge, blanketing the Philadelphia Flyers' Claude Giroux in the first round and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby in the second. Two of the top three scorers in the NHL during the regular season, they combined for three goals and nine points in 14 games.
Girardi and McDonagh contributed offensively, combining for two goals and eight points.
When Girardi and McDonagh aren't out there, it usually means Marc Staal and Anton Stralman are. Staal, healthy after two injury-plagued seasons, has three points and a plus-6 rating in the postseason. Stralman is tied for the Rangers lead with five assists and a plus-7 rating.
Raphael Diaz also saw some time in place of Moore and is an option if the Rangers want a different look on the third pair or on the power play.
Price has shown no panic and barely any holes in his game so far in the playoffs. He has a 2.15 goals-against average, a .926 save percentage and one shutout in 11 starts.
Pacioretty said Price is Montreal's leader. He said Price has stayed calm throughout the playoffs by smiling, cracking jokes and keeping the atmosphere light, even during television timeouts.
Price was at his best in Games 6 and 7 against the Bruins, stopping 55 of 56 shots, and had a shutout streak of 103:46 that spanned the final minutes of Game 5 until Jarome Iginla's goal late in the second period of Game 7. He allowed one goal in the final 125:48 of the series, and finished the series with a 2.05 GAA and .936 save percentage.
He has been particularly effective in the first period and at home in the playoffs. Price has allowed three goals in the first period and is 4-1 with a .943 save percentage and 1.59 goals-against average at Bell Centre.
Price also was at his best against the Rangers during the regular season. In two games, he allowed one goal on 75 shots for a .987 save percentage and 0.50 GAA. He had one shutout.
Peter Budaj is Price's backup and has not seen any action in the postseason.
How good was Lundqvist against the Penguins? After allowing four goals on 27 shots in Game 4, he allowed three goals on 105 shots in Games 5, 6 and 7. That included 35 saves in the 2-1 win in Game 7.
He is tied for the League lead with a .931 save percentage, and his 1.99 goals-against average is second.
The bigger the game, the better Lundqvist plays. In his past 12 elimination games he's 10-2 with a 1.32 GAA, .957 save percentage and two shutouts.
Lundqvist has started 80 straight playoff games, the third goalie in League history to do that for one team. Cam Talbot had a solid regular season as Lundqvist's backup.
Therrien led the Penguins past the Flyers in the 2008 conference final, his only previous trip to the semifinal round.
Therrien was impressive in the series against the Bruins; he used six different lineups and played a few hunches.
He made Briere a healthy scratch for Game 5, but after a 4-2 loss he put the veteran center back in the lineup and Briere answered with a goal and an assist in Game 7.
Searching for more speed on the third defense pair, Therrien inserted Beaulieu into the lineup in Game 6 against the Bruins. In his playoff debut, Beaulieu made the stretch pass that led to Pacioretty's goal.
Vigneault was no stranger to the Stanley Cup Playoffs prior to this season, but the situations he's faced in the first two rounds have been unlike anything he'd ever seen previously with the Vancouver Canucks.
From disappearing power plays and top-line stars to a schedule that saw his team play five games in seven days, including two sets of back-to-back games, he kept the Rangers pointed the right way. He's allowed the dressing room to dictate the mood following the death of St. Louis' mother prior to Game 5 against the Penguins, which has served as a galvanizing moment.
Vigneault has shown a patient, steady hand, making minimal lineup changes. He's stuck with a regular lineup for the most part, but has gotten strong efforts from J.T. Miller, Carcillo and Diaz in small samples. That confidence in his players has led to a relaxed, confident group.
Despite being anemic on their first four power plays in Game 7, the Canadiens came through with an important insurance goal late in the third period on the power play. Briere was credited with the goal that bounced off Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara.
On the whole, Montreal was excellent on the power play against Boston, converting on eight of its 25 chances (32.0 percent). It is 10-for-38 (26.3 percent) in the playoffs.
Subban has three goals and four assists on the power play. Vanek has three power-play goals. All five of Markov's points have come on the power play. Pacioretty has five points on the power play, including four assists.
The Canadiens allowed a power-play goal in Game 7 but were 15-for-18 on the penalty kill in the seven-game series against the Bruins. In the postseason though, their penalty kill has been at 80 percent (20-for-25).
The Rangers power play has been powerless for most of the postseason, including an 0-for-36 streak that tied a League record for futility.
However, it broke out in a big way in the final three games against the Penguins. Kreider's first-period power-play goal in Game 5 ended the extra-man drought and sparked a season-saving 5-1 win. Richards' game-winning goal in the second period of Game 7 came with the Rangers skating 5-on-4.
New York's penalty kill was sensational against Pittsburgh, killing 19 of 20 power plays, including all 13 in the final five games. Lundqvist was the Rangers' best penalty-killer, but they were fast into the lanes and fearless when it came to blocking shots.
David Desharnais -- Desharnais has struggled to score in the playoffs, but if he can re-create the way he played in Game 7 against the Bruins early in the series against the Rangers, he can help the Canadiens set the tone and likely the pace at which they want to play.
Desharnais was fast and on pucks in Game 7. His relentlessness and skill led to Pacioretty's goal.
He hasn't scored a goal since Game 2 against the Tampa Bay Lightning and has five points in 11 playoff games, but Desharnais is shifty and fast, albeit small, and could give New York fits if he plays an assertive game the way he did in Boston on Wednesday.
Derek Stepan -- Stepan centers the Rangers' top line and the first power-play unit, but he hasn't played like a top-line player in the postseason. After finishing with a career-best 57 points in the regular season, he has two goals and six points in 14 playoff games. He went seven games without a point prior to assisting on goals in Games 6 and 7 against the Penguins. If Stepan can get his game going, that could help get Nash in gear, which would give the Rangers a four-line spark to their offense.
WILL WIN IF
Canadiens will win if … Price continues to shine, they continue to get offense from the back end and they play a fast game, setting the tone early. The key is Price. He obviously has been the backbone of the Canadiens the way Lundqvist has for the Rangers. Price has to give the Canadiens a chance to win; he has to be their best player. And he has to be at his best early in games because the Canadiens are at their best when they get a lead. They are 7-0 in the playoffs when scoring first and 6-0 when leading after the first period. They are 1-3 in games when they give up the first goal and 0-2 when trailing after the first.
Rangers will win if … They continue to have strong starts. The Rangers have 14 first-period goals, second-most in the League, and they scored first in nine of their 14 games, going 7-2 in those games. The fast starts allow the Rangers to use their depth and keep their top players fresh. They're so good playing with a lead because their fast starts allow them to push the pace and try to build their lead. They also can be aggressive offensively because they have one of the best goaltenders in the world backing them up.
|Back to top|