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Rangers, Canadiens battle for first place in East

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

CANADIENS (16-4-2) at RANGERS (16-3-2)

TV: SNE, SNO, RDS, MSG 2

NEW YORK -- Although New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault says he and his team have moved on from their 3-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 15, the way he talked Wednesday morning makes it sound like the sting of that defeat is still fresh and raw.

"We definitely…got a lesson in hockey in that particular game," Vigneault said.

That line was a variation of him saying the Canadiens "schooled" the Rangers after the game at Bell Centre last month.

Despite a 13-1-2 record since, it's easy to sense being around the Rangers they won't feel good about themselves until they avenge that loss to Montreal, which is the opportunity they have at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

The Rangers and Canadiens enter the game tied atop the Eastern Conference with 16 wins and 34 points. They have a developing rivalry going on too.

New York beat Montreal in the 2014 Eastern Conference Final in six games, the last five of which the Canadiens played without goalie Carey Price. However, Montreal has won nine of the past 10 regular-season games against the Rangers.

"The past couple of years we had the playoff series and a lot of great games, so I do see it as a rivalry," Montreal captain Max Pacioretty said. "Maybe not one that is as recognized as Toronto or Boston, but I see it that way. It always is a tight checking, hard-nosed game."

The Rangers, though, don't feel it was close the last time they played, even though it was 1-0 until Montreal scored twice in the final three minutes of the third period.

"Price had to make a couple saves on a 5-on-3 and I think one tough save 5-on-5, but other than that we really didn't test him," Vigneault said. "They were the better team."

Rangers defenseman Marc Staal referred to it as "a mini wakeup call, if you can have something like that that early in the season."

Goalie Henrik Lundqvist said he tries not to dwell on past performances, but he brought up that game when analyzing the Canadiens.

"I look back at last time we played them up in Montreal, their transition game is really I think at the top in the League the way they go from defense to offense," Lundqvist said. "We have to play a smart game and I look forward to that challenge."

Montreal coach Michel Therrien seemed skeptical of Vigneault's comments regarding how badly the Canadiens beat the Rangers last month.

"I know Alain really, really well," Therrien said, laughing.

It sounded as if Therrien was suggesting there was a deeper subliminal meaning behind Vigneault's choice of words like "schooled" and "lesson in hockey," almost as if he was playing some mind games, but he wouldn't expound on what he means.

"Yes we played a solid game," Therrien said. "Tonight, it's going to be a different game. Two good hockey teams with similar styles that got a lot of speed, good defense and good goaltending. We're still early in the season, only in November, but we want to make sure we have another solid game and I believe we will."

Here are the projected lineups:

CANADIENS

Max Pacioretty - Tomas Plekanec - Devante Smith-Pelly

Tomas Fleischmann - David Desharnais - Dale Weise

Lars Eller - Alex Galchenyuk - Sven Andrighetto

Paul Byron - Brian Flynn - Alexander Semin

Andrei Markov - P.K. Subban

Nathan Beaulieu - Jeff Petry

Alexei Emelin - Tom Gilbert

Carey Price

Mike Condon

Injured: Brendan Gallagher (hand), Torrey Mitchell (lower body)

Scratched: Greg Pateryn, Jarred Tinordi, Bud Holloway

RANGERS

Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Kevin Hayes

J.T. Miller - Oscar Lindberg - Jesper Fast

Dominic Moore - Jarret Stoll - Viktor Stalberg

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Marc Staal - Dan Boyle

Keith Yandle - Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist

Antti Raanta

Injured: none

Scratched: Emerson Etem, Dylan McIlrath

Status report: Emelin returns to Montreal's lineup after missing the past five games with a lower-body injury. He is replacing Pateryn. Therrien said it was a difficult decision because he has liked the way Pateryn has played on the third pair with Gilbert, but ultimately he felt the need to get Emelin back in the rotation. "We've got depth on our defense and a guy like Alexei is part of the mix. He played good hockey for us early in the season, before he got hurt, and he deserves to be in the lineup." … Montreal will play its first game since Gallagher had surgery to repair two fractured fingers on his left hand. He is out a minimum of six weeks. Smith-Pelly is getting the first chance to play on the top line with Pacioretty and Plekanec. … The Rangers are using the same lines and defense pairs they used in their 3-0 win against the Nashville Predators on Monday.

Who's hot: Nash has four goals in the past two games. … Plekanec has assists in each of the past three games and has points in seven of the past eight games (2-6-8). … Fleischman has scored a goal in back to back games and three of the past four. … Weise is on a three-game point streak (1-2-3).

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