MONTREAL -- New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist skated onto the Bell Centre's frozen stage Saturday for the first time in more than two years with a bleak history to his credit in the Montreal Canadiens' raucous arena.
Lundqvist entered Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final with a 4-5-2 record, a 3.87 goals-against average and .876 save percentage in Montreal. But the Rangers' 7-2 win consigned those bad numbers to the history books.
"I'm going to be honest with you, I felt good coming into the game and, yeah, you guys like to talk about it, you like to ask me about it," said Lundqvist, who made 20 saves in his first start in Montreal since Jan. 14, 2012. "I haven't played here in a while, but it's still the same game. Last time I played here, we had a different team, and I think I've grown as a goalie as well."
"It wasn't 7-2 the whole game, it was closer than that," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "When we needed a save, he made some big ones."
Rookie Cam Talbot started the Rangers' two regular-season games in Montreal, including a 1-0 overtime loss in the final game of the season April 12. Talbot's first NHL shutout was a 1-0 win against the Canadiens on Nov. 16 that snapped an 0-7-1 skid for the Rangers at Bell Centre.
A backup in New York's four previous games at Bell Centre, Lundqvist hadn't won in the Canadiens' home building since March 17, 2009. In his four previous appearances in Montreal since winning, Lundqvist was 0-3-1 with an .862 save percentage and 4.63 GAA.
"Every time you play the game you have to show yourself and your teammates that you can play. So, yeah, we got a great start here and a good win, but it's about doing it again in the next one," Lundqvist said. "But obviously we haven't won that many games in this building, so it's good to get a great start and know that we when we pay attention to all the details that we can get the result we want."
Lundqvist ranks first in the NHL with nine wins in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs and is tied for second with a 1.99 GAA and .929 save percentage.
"I don't know if you've seen him play the last few weeks, but he's been on a different planet, so we had all the confidence in the world in him and I think he's pretty confident in his game right now," Rangers forward Brian Boyle said. "That stuff's all in the past any way. I think you guys make a bigger deal out of it than it is. For us, that's ancient history, really it is, it's a number of years ago and he's world-class. Just look at him, he's been playing fantastic for us. It's unbelievable some of the saves he's made, even this afternoon."
The five-goal margin of victory was the Rangers' largest against the Canadiens in the postseason; the previous playoff high was three.
Lundqvist likened the Canadiens to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who the Rangers came back to defeat in seven games after trailing the Eastern Conference Second Round series 3-1.
"We didn't allow them to get that game going," Lundqvist said. "That's the biggest part of their game, is the transition game, so when you can take that away from them you have a lot bigger chance of winning the game I think because sometimes it feels like that team is so fast and it all depends on whether you're getting pucks deep or not."
Prior to Saturday, the Canadiens were the most-recent team to lose Game 1 of the conference finals by at least five goals, 6-0 to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010.
"Our guys know that we're up against a really good team that have beaten the best team right now in the NHL, so we know we've got our hands full," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.
"Tonight in the second period, the difference was our goaltender. He made some big saves and they were able to pull in from one and you can see that they were pushing, and then when you score a few goals late in the period, we just got a little bit fortunate there and took it home in the third."