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Round 1

Rangers, Canadiens renew longstanding rivalry

Original Six teams meet for 16th time in Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

MONTREAL -- The Eastern Conference First Round series between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers is Chapter 16 in a storied Stanley Cup Playoff history.

The Original Six rivals first met in a 1930 Semifinal and most recently in the 2014 Eastern Conference Final, with 13 series in between. The Rangers hold an 8-7 edge, although the Canadiens have won 36 games with 29 losses (and two ties), and have outscored the Rangers 203-178.

Of course, history means nothing as the teams prepare for Game 1 on Wednesday at Bell Centre (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, MSG), the opener of a series in which Montreal goalie Carey Price and New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist will play the same vital roles that Canadiens netminder George Hainsworth and Rangers counterpart John Ross Roach did in 1930.

There's a decent chance these teams might go to overtime for the 12th time in their postseason history; it happened twice in 2014, with each team winning once. There's also the possibility we'll see the seventh shutout; the Rangers hold a 4-2 edge in that category; Lundqvist is the most recent New York goalie to get a shutout, in the sixth and final game of the 2014 series, while Jacques Plante's shutout in the fifth and deciding game of the 1956 Semifinal was the last time the Rangers failed to score.

Few fans will be unhappy should these old foes go to overtime again, unlike the grumbling majority in 1930 when the Canadiens and Rangers played a Montreal Forum doubleheader (and change) in their first-ever playoff meeting. Canadiens rookie forward Gus Rivers beat Roach 8:52 into the fourth overtime at 12:45 a.m. on March 29, nearly 4 ½ hours after the opening faceoff. Montreal's 2-1 victory left fans of the home team more relieved than happy to have been a part of history; many of them were scowling when they headed to wee-hours streetcars after what then was the NHL's longest game. It's still the ninth-longest game in playoff history.

 

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But at the time, many fans were angered that it took the Canadiens and Rangers the equivalent of two-plus games to settle the outcome at the 4-year-old Forum.

It's not as though the teams didn't have chances to win; there were 11 penalties called in extra time, including four against the Rangers in the first overtime period alone.

A Winnipeg mechanic seldom used during the 19 regular-season games for which he would dress, Rivers was said to sit alone in a railroad car on road trips and render the popular ditties to himself with feeling. If he was celebrated for his overtime heroics, not everyone was impressed with how long it took to play the game.

"Crowd Disgusted With System Of Play To A Finish," the Gazette headlined a sidebar story the next morning, C.H. Peters' text appearing under the subheads "Canadiens Exhausted" and "Two Gruelling Struggles in Three Days Hard on Montrealers."

The Canadiens and Chicago Black Hawks had played 51:43 of overtime two nights earlier in Game 2 of their two-game quarterfinal series, with Howie Morenz scoring to produce a 2-2 tie and a 3-2 total-goals victory for the Canadiens, setting up the Semifinal against the Rangers.

Fans filed from the Forum nearing 1 a.m. following the marathon against the Rangers, having become more and more tired and annoyed as the game wore on, Peters suggested in his column.

"All pleasure is spoiled and the spectators become as tired and fed up as the players themselves," Peters wrote. "The opinion was about unanimous that unlimited overtime struggles have been tried enough and that the system is obnoxious and unsatisfactory to both players and spectators alike."

Video: Canadiens vs Rangers First Round Preview

The "tired and battered Flying Frenchmen," as Peters called them, defeated the Rangers 2-0 in New York two nights later, then swept the Boston Bruins in a best-of-3 Final to win their third Stanley Cup championship.

The Canadiens and Rangers met in the semifinals two years later, with New York winning the best-of-5 series 3-1. The Rangers' 4-3 win in Game 2 needed 59 minutes of overtime.

Of course, unlimited overtime still exists, despite a long-ago newspaper columnist's cry that the NHL do away with it. "The public demands sixty minutes of fast, clean hockey with perhaps a few extra minutes in a particularly close contest," Peters wrote in 1930. "That is sufficient for the requirements of any and every supporter of the great Canadian sport."

Only once in their 15 series have the Canadiens and Rangers played with the Stanley Cup at stake; Montreal defeated New York in a five-game Final in 1979 to win the 22nd of its 24 championships and the last in a run of four straight.

Following their 1930 semifinal series loss, the Rangers defeated the Canadiens in four consecutive series -- 1932, 1933, 1935 and 1950 -- before the Canadiens returned the favor with four wins of their own, in 1956, 1957, 1967 and 1969. Since then, the Rangers and Canadiens have alternated with two straight series wins; New York in 1972 and 1974, Montreal in 1979 and 1986, and New York in 1996 and 2014.

Three series have been sweeps, including the Canadiens in 1967 and 1969. In the 11 best-of-7 series between the teams since 1950, not one has gone the limit and seven have ended in four or five games.

Rivers, the Canadiens' 1930 hero, would return to play 69 more games with Montreal over the next two seasons. He slipped into the minors with six NHL goals, two in the postseason, and finished his career quietly with the Providence Reds.

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