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Round 1

Canadiens vs. Rangers playoff preview

Carey Price-Henrik Lundqvist goalie matchup highlights first-round series

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

Montreal Canadiens (A1) vs New York Rangers (WC1)

Season series: Canadiens 3-0-0 

Last playoff meeting: 2014 Eastern Conference Final; Rangers won series 4-2

All-time playoff series: Rangers lead 8-7

 

[RELATED: Canadiens-Rangers coverage | Fast is Rangers' X-factor | Weber, Habs dynamic | Why Rangers will win Cup]

 

How they got here

The Montreal Canadiens get a shot at redemption against the New York Rangers, who defeated them in six games in the Eastern Conference Final in 2014.

The best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series begins at Bell Centre on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

The Canadiens won the Atlantic Division with a 47-26-9 record, going 16-7-1 after Claude Julien replaced Michel Therrien as coach on Feb. 14. The Rangers were in the thick of the highly competitive Metropolitan Division race for most of the season, but they limped into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. New York was 40-19-2 on Feb. 25 but went 8-9-4 from that point on to finish 48-28-6 for the first wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

Video: Canadiens vs Rangers First Round Preview

 

5 storylines

The King vs. the Savior: The marquee matchup is in goal, one that did not occur in 2014. New York's Henrik Lundqvist and Montreal's Carey Price are two of the best in the world, and whoever plays better likely will move on to the second round. This showdown in the Eastern Conference Final three years ago was cut short when Price was injured in Game 1 in a collision with Rangers forward Chris Kreider. Lundqvist is 14-17-3 in the regular season against the Canadiens, one of three NHL teams he has a losing record against (Ottawa Senators, 15-17-3; St. Louis Blues, 4-5-0).

The speedy game-breakers: The Canadiens and Rangers each possess a player who can be the difference at any moment thanks to his blazing speed. Montreal forward Paul Byron and New York forward Michael Grabner were two of the most surprising players in the League during the regular season, and each did it turning seemingly innocuous loose pucks in the neutral zone into breakaways. Grabner scored 27 goals, and Byron had 22, but what is remarkable is that neither of them scored a power-play goal and each of them has scored once shorthanded.

Rangers' scoring depth vs. Canadiens' shutdown players: Under Julien, the defense pairing of Shea Weber with Andrei Markov and the forward line of Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher and Byron consistently was used against the opposing team's top lines. The problem the Rangers present is that they make it difficult for opposing teams to identify what the top line is. New York coach Alain Vigneault spreads his offense across three balanced lines, and whoever doesn't have to face Montreal's top shutdown unit should have an easier time producing.

Rangers' lack of depth on defense: As deep as they are up front, the Rangers defense represents their biggest question mark heading into the playoffs. After Ryan McDonagh, it gets very thin with a combination of Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Nick Holden, Brendan Smith, Kevin Klein and rookie Brady Skjei filling out the top six. The Canadiens have a clear advantage in this area, and that could be what makes the difference in the goaltending showdown.

The Kreider factor: Canadiens fans definitely have not forgotten what happened to Price in 2014. There is no doubt Kreider will be a target of the Bell Centre crowd throughout the series, and the fact that Kreider's 28 goals led the Rangers this season should accentuate his villain role on the road.  

Video: PHI@NYR: Kreider's clever redirect beats Stolarz

 

By the numbers

4: The Canadiens' NHL rank in goals-against and the Rangers' rank in goals-for this season. Something will have to give. Montreal is a stingy team no longer solely relying on Price to prevent goals. Under Julien, the Canadiens allowed half a goal fewer per game than they had under Therrien, so the Rangers will need to work hard to maintain their high scoring ways.

11: The number of times the Canadiens trailed entering the third period and won, the highest total in the League. However, the Rangers were tied for second in the NHL in third-period goals scored (101), so perhaps they are equipped to counter the Canadiens' ability to come back late.

88.4: The Canadiens penalty-kill percentage under Julien. Montreal was the least-penalized team in the NHL after Julien took over after being the most-penalized team in the League under Therrien. The Rangers power play went through a long lull before coming alive over the final 15 games (13-for-37), but if the Canadiens continue their disciplined play, it shouldn't get many opportunities to shine.

 

In the spotlight

Canadiens: Shea Weber, defenseman -- Weber's last playoff game is one he'd rather forget. He was on the ice for all five goals the Nashville Predators allowed in their 5-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks in Game 7 of the 2016 Western Conference Second Round. Weber entered this season tasked with making Canadiens fans forget the trade that brought him to Montreal and shipped P.K. Subban to Nashville, and he has done that to a large extent. Now Weber has an opportunity to erase the memory of that final playoff game in a Predators uniform.

Video: OTT@MTL: Weber hammers home PPG with big slapper

Rangers: J.T. Miller, forward -- Miller, 24, was New York's second leading scorer with 56 points (22 goals, 34 assists) in 82 games, but he had 10 points (four goals, six assists) in his final 26 games. The Rangers will need Miller to produce in this series, even if he's developed other areas of his game that help them win.

Video: NYR@SJS: Miller beats Jones up high with wrister

 

 

Keys to victory

Canadiens: Secondary scoring. New York will focus its attention defensively on the top line of Max Pacioretty, Phillip Danault and Alexander Radulov, so it is vital that Montreal's second and third lines contribute offensively, particularly the line of Alex Galchenyuk, Andrew Shaw and Artturi Lehkonen. With the Plekanec line drawing most of the difficult assignments, providing offensive support for the top line will fall largely on the Shaw line. They've been good since they were put together March 23, particularly the rookie Lehkonen, but that needs to continue.

Video: MTL@DET: Galchenyuk scorches one-timer for OT win

Rangers: Relentless pressure. New York's primary advantage is up front and their ability to come at you in waves, with very little drop-off from their first forward line to their third. The Rangers need to accentuate that and force the Canadiens to defend for long stretches, something Montreal hasn't done much under Julien, in order to wear Price down over time.

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