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Canadiens, Rangers to meet in Eastern Final

by John Kreiser

Carey Price had to beat Henrik Lundqvist to lead Canada to a gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. For the Montreal Canadiens to make their first Stanley Cup Final since 1993, he'll have to do it again.

Price and Lundqvist are the biggest reasons their teams, the Canadiens and New York Rangers, will meet in the Eastern Conference Final, beginning Saturday in Montreal (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS). The series will offer a goaltending rematch of the Olympic gold-medal game, in which Price led Canada past Sweden and Lundqvist.

Each has excelled in this season's Stanley Cup Playoffs, leading his team to a come-from-behind victory in a seven-game Eastern Conference Second Round series that ended with a road victory. The Rangers, who finished second in the Metropolitan Division, overcame a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins after beating the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games in the opening round. The Canadiens, third in the Atlantic Division, won Games 6 and 7 to overtake the Boston Bruins after a first-round sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

If the teams' three regular-season games are any indication, don't expect a lot of goals.

Montreal won two of the three (one in overtime), but the teams combined for a total of four goals. Each of the three games ended in a shutout; Montreal won 2-0 in New York on Oct. 28, spoiling the Rangers' home opener, but New York got even with a 1-0 victory at Bell Centre on Nov. 16. The teams didn't meet again until the final Saturday of the season, when Montreal won 1-0 in overtime at home.

Lundqvist, the hero of the Rangers' come-from-behind seven-game victory against the Penguins, has a 13-11-2 career record against the Canadiens but has struggled in Montreal. Lundqvist is 4-5-2 with a 3.87 goals-against average and .876 save percentage at Bell Centre, where he'll be making his first appearance since Jan. 15, 2012. He hasn't won in Montreal since a 4-3 shootout victory on March 17, 2009, and his most-recent regulation victory there was a 5-3 win on Feb. 3, 2008.

Backup goaltender Cam Talbot played in two games at Montreal this season. Lundqvist allowed two goals in the loss at home in October.

In contrast, Price has excelled against the Rangers during his career, especially at home. His 8-5-1 record includes five shutouts, one of which was the overtime win in April. He was also in goal for the 1-0 home loss in November.

Ryan Callahan, who scored the Rangers’ only goal against the Canadiens this season, was sent to the Lightning for Martin St. Louis at the NHL Trade Deadline. Tomas Plekanec and now-injured forward Alex Galchenyuk scored for the Canadiens in the win at New York, and Brian Gionta scored the overtime goal in the 1-0 win April 12.

The Canadiens have dominated the Rangers during the regular season since New York entered the NHL in 1926. Montreal is 328-189-94-3 all-time against the Rangers and has won 12 of the past 16 games between the teams.

But the Canadiens' dominance of the Rangers hasn't extended to the playoffs. Though the Canadiens have 24 Stanley Cup championships to the Rangers' four, the teams are 7-7 in their 14 previous playoff series. That includes a six-game victory for the Rangers in their most-recent meeting, an opening-round series in 1996 in which the Canadiens won the first two games in New York but lost the next four, including three in Montreal.

The Rangers led all teams in the Eastern Conference with 25 road victories during the regular season and are 4-3 on the road during the playoffs. But the prospect of playing four games at Bell Centre will be a challenge: New York's 65-200-40-3 record in Montreal is its worst road mark against any of the Original Six teams, and the 1-0 win in November is the Rangers' only victory in their past 10 visits.

New York has scored two goals in seven games at Bell Centre since Feb. 5, 2011.

If there's one saving historical note for the Rangers, it's that they've won all three postseason games they've played at Bell Centre, where they went 3-0 in 1996.

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