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Canadiens, Rangers take part in wild, wacky fun

Montreal's three goals in 62 seconds highlight eventful Original Six game

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- It's no mystery that New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist doesn't include Bell Centre among his favorite NHL arenas.

And it's also no secret that during their 620-game body of head-to-head work, heading into the game Saturday on Montreal ice, the Rangers and Montreal Canadiens had seen their share of weird, wacky and just plain wonderful.

Stir those things into a big pot, bring it to a quick boil and you've got another tasty Original Six hockey stew, the Canadiens' 5-4 victory a blend of playoff-intense action and scrambly shinny played on a frozen pond without the clutter of referees or rules.

Video: NYR@MTL: Habs net three goals 62 seconds apart in 3rd

"There's a lot of tradition and history going back and there's no doubt these games are always special," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said two hours before faceoff of an Original Six matchup. "Players can feel it, they can feel the enthusiasm."

The three times come-from-behind Canadiens win wasn't a classic by any definition, but it was great fun.

A three-goal third-period blink-and-you-missed-it eruption, and then five minutes of defending an improbable one-goal lead, lifted the Canadiens against their visitors on a night that featured 65 shots, an injured goaltender and coach's challenges on each side. The finish came not so much with the final siren, but when a player's mother yelled "Supper!" to end what at times seemed to be a game of road hockey. 

The Rangers arrived in Montreal at 2 a.m., on the heels of a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden on Friday. They might have taken some comfort in the fact they were 12-1-1 in the game following a loss, the NHL's leader in road wins with 15 and 7-0-0, the League's only unbeaten team, in the second game of back-to-backs this season.

Lundqvist, struggling to find consistency, played Friday and wasn't expected to see action in Montreal, where he had gone 4-7-2 lifetime with a goals-against average knocking on the door of 3.90 and a save percentage well south of .900. After a short night's sleep, the winningest European-born goalie in NHL history was at Bell Centre with a few Rangers extras for a morning skate Saturday, then settled at 7 p.m. on the backup goalie's stool in the hallway outside New York's dressing room across the rink from their bench.

And then things got interesting. Starter Antti Raanta didn't return for the start of the second period, gone with a lower-body injury and the Rangers leading 1-0. 

The Rangers took six second-period shots on Canadiens goalie Carey Price when Lundqvist was beaten on Montreal's first, a deflection by center Alex Galchenyuk. He was solved again about four minutes later when forward Brian Flynn banged home his third whack at a puck that Lundqvist couldn't smother in a scramble.

Video: NYR@MTL: Flynn pokes loose puck past Lundqvist

The Rangers' wheels fell off in a 62-second third-period span on a long-distance, seeing-eye drifter by defenseman Alexei Emelin, a breakaway by captain Max Pacioretty and a lucky Rangers-deflected backhand by forward Paul Byron. New York's fourth goal, by center Derek Stepan with 5:07 to play, was enough to tighten collars a bit.

In the end, Lundqvist surrendered five goals on 22 shots for a save percentage of .773.

"Just things going wrong, extremely fast," Lundqvist said after the game.

Pacioretty would say the Canadiens perked up at the start of the second with Lundqvist's arrival, but not because of the goalie's checkered history in Montreal.

"He played [Friday] night, so we had to make sure we made it hard on him, took away his eyes and his confidence," Pacioretty said. "We knew he'd played [Friday] and we knew that can often be a tough situation to come into, thinking you're going to have the day off after a tough night.

"Lundqvist is an unbelievable goaltender. It's not like he goes in and we're doing jumping jacks to celebrate on the bench. But it's a really tough situation now in this league for goalies to play back-to-back and we wanted to make the best of an opportunity that was there."

There's always a buzz in Montreal when an Original Six opponent is in town, especially on a Saturday night. The throwback to pre-1967 expansion brings in the teams on whose backs the League was built, every jersey a classic, the emotion always cranked up. 

For Pacioretty, a native of New Canaan, Connecticut, who grew up a Rangers fan, a game against them always means a little more, family and friends back home more sharply tuned. All that was missing for him was his usual pregame chat with veteran Rangers broadcasters Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti.

"Sammy and Joe are guys I listened to broadcasting all the Rangers games," Pacioretty said. "I normally see them in the hallway before games and it just gives me a little bit more of a boost. As soon as I hear Sammy's voice I think back to old MSG, so that's special."

Video: NYR@MTL: Pacioretty buries go-ahead goal on breakaway

If he's far too young to have witnessed the take-no-prisoners Original Six rivalries, Pacioretty has had his moments against the Rangers.

"I know they felt uncomfortable coming into the Bell Centre for many, many years," he said. "And then they won the [2014 Eastern Conference Final] playoff series, and that whole thing kind of went away. 

"But we like to develop a little bit of getting into people's minds that it's not going to be easy playing us here and tonight was an example of that. Once we get two (of three quick) goals, the building just erupts and it's tough for a team to come back."

Had the Stanley Cup Playoffs started Saturday, the Canadiens and Rangers would have been opponents in the Eastern Conference First Round. If this latest game was a preview, keep your fingers crossed for good skating conditions on their frozen shinny pond come April.

Video: Canadiens rally with three goals in 62 seconds

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