MONTREAL - The stage is set: the Canadiens will be facing their Original Six rivals, the New York Rangers, in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This will be the 16th NHL postseason showdown between Montreal and New York, with the Canadiens having taken seven of those previous series - including two sweeps (in 1967 and 1969) - since 1917. Beating the Rangers in the playoffs has been a good omen for the Canadiens; in addition to prevailing over New York in the 1979 Stanley Cup Final, the Habs have also gone on to win the Cup five times after facing the Rangers in the NHL's second season (1930, 1956, 1957, 1969, 1986).
The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, in the 2014 Conference finals, the match-up featured a duel of former Canadiens head coaches: Alain Vigneault and Michel Therrien - who was in his second stint with the Habs. This year's Round 1 series includes a similar battle, except it's Claude Julien - who coached the bleu-blanc-rouge from 2002-03 until partway through 2005-06 before returning this February - who will be manning the bench for the Montreal squad. Julien returns to Canadiens postseason action with a Stanley Cup ring on his finger, having won in 2011 with Boston. The Habs' bench boss has the edge in career postseason prowess, owning a .582 playoff winning percentage, compared to .485 for his Rangers counterpart.
Speaking of duels, hockey fans tuning into this upcoming Eastern Conference quarterfinal will be treated to an epic clash between the pipes, featuring two of the League's best goalies in Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist. The 35-year-old Rangers netminder prevailed over the Habs in the 2014 Conference finals - a series in which Price played just one game before being sidelined with an injury. Price holds the edge in regular season action between Montreal and New York. In 22 all-time games played, the Anahim Lake, BC native boasts a 15-5-0-1 record against the Rangers, enjoying a .940 save percentage and 2.28 goals-against average with nine shutouts. Lundqvist, meanwhile, has struggled against the Canadiens, posting a career record of 14-17-0-3 with an .898 SV% and 2.87 GAA.
This season, the Canadiens swept the 2016-17 series against the Blueshirts, winning one contest at the Bell Centre and two in the Big Apple. Max Pacioretty leads all Canadiens skaters in points against the Rangers in 2016-17 with five (1G, 4A), while Phillip Danault is right behind the captain with four assists.
Among current Canadiens skaters, Tomas Plekanec is the leading career point-getter against the Blueshirts with 29, in 42 games. The Rangers would be wise to avoid taking penalties while he's around, as the Czech forward has netted five power-play markers against them over the years, tops among current Habs.
Veteran defenseman Andrei Markov leads the 2016-17 Montreal squad in lifetime blocked shots against the Rangers with 57, and tops all current Canadiens in scoring against New York in the 2014 series with a goal and four assists. He also clocked the most ice time in that series among those still with Montreal with an average total of 25:11.
Pacioretty has also been productive throughout his career against the Rangers, notching eight goals and nine helpers in 26 tilts, while Steve Ott has been stoking fear in his Rangers opponents, leading all Montreal skaters with 47 career hits.
With the NHL's regular season coming to a close this weekend, Canadiens fans can look forward to a thrilling battle against their longtime rivals in the Empire State. The Round 1 schedule will be announced early next week.