NEW YORK -- After spending the first four weeks of the season on the road, the New York Rangers wanted to give their hometown crowd something to cheer about. But it was the visiting Montreal Canadiens who came away with two points Monday night in the Rangers' home opener at Madison Square Garden.
From the onset, it appeared that this game could come down to a bounce. But it was the Canadiens who got the bounces when it mattered most. When the Rangers did get a bounce, goaltender Peter Budaj was there.
Budaj made 27 saves for the shutout and Tomas Plekanec scored the winning goal on the power play to lead the Canadiens to a 2-0 victory. Alex Galchenyuk also scored a late insurance marker, but it was the Canadiens’ backup goaltender who made the most of his rare opportunity.
Budaj outdueled Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who made 25 saves in his first start in nine days due to an undisclosed injury.
"It doesn't matter what day it is. You try to work hard and prepare yourself the best you can," said Budaj, who made his second start of the season after starting Oct. 10 against the Edmonton Oilers.
The Rangers carried the play early, outshooting Montreal 5-1 in the opening eight minutes, with the Canadiens blocking an additional five shot attempts in that span. Chris Kreider had the first quality scoring chance for New York less than two minutes into the game, when he pounced on a rebound off a John Moore point shot. But Budaj got just enough of the puck to send it caroming off the crossbar.
"It was wide open and he came across and it got the top of his glove and [went] off the crossbar," Kreider said. "That's another one I've got to have."
In a tight-checking affair that saw both teams do a good job blocking passing and shooting lanes, the opportunities to break open the game were few and far between. Through 20 minutes, Montreal and New York actually combined for almost as many blocked shots (13) as shots on net (14).
Kreider again figured in a quality chance with less than seven minutes remaining in the second period. The 22-year-old forward beat Francis Bouillon to a loose puck behind the Montreal net and quickly fed Derek Stepan in front. But Budaj kept the game tied with a quick kick save.
The teams combined for 11 power-play opportunities, and Montreal took control of the contest by striking first with the man advantage.
With 3:26 remaining in the second and Brian Boyle serving a roughing penalty, rookie Michael Bournival's soft pass sent Plekanec storming towards the Rangers’ net down the left wing. It was a quick sequence of passes from Andrei Markov to Brian Gionta to Bournival that momentarily broke down the New York defense. And the slightest of backhand passes provided an open lane for Plekanec, who went to his backhand to beat a sprawling Lundqvist for his team-leading sixth goal of the season.
"Mike made a great pass back to me. I had a lane to go to the net," Plekanec said. "I thought he [Lundqvist] was pretty deep in his net, so I tried to bring him all the way on the other side and I still had room to put it in."
The assist gave Bournival points in five of his past six games.
The Rangers appeared to have a prime opportunity to tie the game on the power play early in the third. Once again, a potentially pivotal play came down to the slightest detail. Derrick Brassard was left speeding down the wing all alone following a collision at the Canadiens' blue line. But the collision was precipitated by Kreider catching a piece of Raphael Diaz's skate on the play, earning Kreider an interference penalty.
"I talked to the refs quickly and I guess when they [opposing players] are backing up it's their ice. I can see them coming, so I need to make some effort to get out of the way," Kreider said. "Just stopping isn't enough. So I guess it's on me to be aware of where they are."
Trailing 1-0, the Rangers found some space with four minutes remaining in regulation. But Budaj stopped Mats Zuccarello on the doorstep off a Rangers rush. Moments later, Galchenyuk earned an important insurance marker off a cross-crease feed from Lars Eller.
The puck went in off Galchenyuk's skate and replay officials ruled that there was no distinct kicking motion on the play.
"If that's not a kick, I don't know what a kick is. Seriously, there needs to be some sort of consistency in calls," Lundqvist said. "It's just a frustrating goal there that kind of kills the whole game."
The Canadiens, who host the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, have now won four straight against the Rangers and have not lost to New York since March 30, 2012.
As for the Rangers, who visit the New York Islanders on Tuesday, coach Alain Vigneault praised his team's stout defensive play.
"We are doing a lot of the right things. Every time we took a shot we had people converging to the net trying to win the battle," Vigneault said. "Give them credit. Their guys did a good job of protecting their goaltender and their goaltender did a good job of controlling the rebounds."
The night ultimately belonged to Budaj, who appeared sharp despite not having played in almost three weeks. In his two starts this season, he has allowed one goal and stopped 54 of 55 shots.
"Everybody wants to play. I would lie to you if I said I don't want to play," Budaj said. "But I'm going to do what I can to help the team any way I can."