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Goals may be at premium as Rangers, Canadiens open

by Brian Hunter /



Season series: The Montreal Canadiens won two of three games against the New York Rangers during a regular-season series dominated by defense and goaltending.

Canadiens backup goalie Peter Budaj shut out the Rangers 2-0 in their home opener on Oct. 28, with forwards Tomas Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk scoring the goals.

Rangers backup goalie Cam Talbot blanked the Canadiens 1-0 at Bell Centre on Nov. 16. Former captain Ryan Callahan, traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning later in the season for forward Martin St. Louis, scored the goal.

Carey Price shut out the Rangers 1-0 in Montreal on April 12 in each team's regular-season finale. Canadiens captain Brian Gionta beat Talbot on a penalty shot in overtime to win it.

Big story: These Original Six rivals are meeting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 18 years, and each had to pull off a comeback culminating in a Game 7 win on the road in order to reach the Eastern Conference Final.

The Rangers enter on a three-game winning streak after coming back from a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in their history against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Canadiens had to rally from a 3-2 series deficit to knock off the Presidents' Trophy-winning Boston Bruins.

Montreal swept Tampa Bay in the first round, and New York enters the conference final off consecutive seven-game series wins for the second time in three years. The Rangers did have three days off between the second and third round; the Canadiens had two.

Team Scope:

Rangers: Much has been made about the struggles of New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist at Bell Centre, and coach Alain Vigneault elected to start Talbot in the regular-season games there. But Lundqvist enters this series at the top of his game. He passed Mike Richter in the previous round for most all-time playoff appearances by a Rangers goalie (Saturday will be his 82nd) and he could establish a couple more records in the weeks to come. Lundqvist's 38 postseason wins are three behind Richter and his eight shutouts place him one back.

"I look forward to going there," Lundqvist said Friday when asked about playing at Bell Centre. "It's a conference final in Montreal. That's special. I'm excited about that. When it comes to my game, I just try to go out and play the same way. Don't overthink it. Just go out and enjoy it."

The Rangers have the best team goals-against average (2.14) in the playoffs but will be going up against the top offense in the Canadiens, who are averaging 3.27 goals in 11 games.

Canadiens: Disrespect seemed to be the word that best summed up Montreal's series against Boston. The Canadiens felt the Bruins weren't giving them their due, but that animosity isn't present on either side to start this conference final.

The Canadiens were called "the favorites" in a glowing assessment by Vigneault. On the other side, forward Dale Weise, a surprise offensive contributor in these playoffs with three goals and five points, had verbal bouquets to hand to his former organization. Weise and forward Brandon Prust are former Rangers.

"What do I like about the Rangers? Well, what's there not to like about them?" Weise said. "They've got an elite goaltender. I saw it with my own eyes. Henrik Lundqvist is outstanding. They have solid D. They have good speed and they're strong up front. Their smaller players are feisty and they battle for the puck. It will be a good matchup."

Who's hot: Lundqvist stopped 102 of 105 shots (.971 save percentage) in the final three games of the comeback against the Penguins, giving up one goal in each game. … Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty has two goals and two assists during a three-game point streak. Price stopped 55 of 56 shots (.982 save percentage) in the final two games against the Bruins.

Injury report: The only injury of note pertains to Galchenyuk (knee), who was injured in Montreal's game against the Chicago Blackhawks on April 9 and has missed the first two rounds. Galchenyuk has been cleared for contact and took part in a full practice Friday. He isn't game-ready yet, but is getting close.

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