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Rangers winning most of the special-teams battles

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers think they're winning the special-teams battle in the Eastern Conference Final because of what they're doing. The Montreal Canadiens think they're losing it because of what they're not doing.

They're both right, but what they think won't change the results of Games 1 and 2.

The Rangers dominated special teams at Bell Centre in Montreal and have a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series heading into Game 3 on Thursday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

"Our special teams got us to where we are, but in the first two games we need to be better if we want to have success," Montreal coach Michel Therrien told the French media. "We've made a few adjustments, getting back to basics, making better decisions on the power play, and we need to be a bit more intense on the penalty kill. There were a few times where we lost battles and it gave the Rangers the chance to capitalize on the power play."

The Rangers' power play is 4-for-10 against Montreal and 7-for-21 in their five-game winning streak after going through a 0-for-36 stretch in the first two rounds.

It scored three times in the third period of Game 1, turning a 4-1 lead into a 7-1 advantage en route to a 7-2 victory.

The Rangers' most important power-play goal in the series, and the one that bothers the Canadiens the most, came 8:03 into the second period of Game 2, when Martin St. Louis ripped a one-timer from the slot past Montreal goalie Dustin Tokarski to extend New York's lead to 3-1.

St. Louis and the Rangers liked the play because it provided insurance on what was a one-goal lead, but also because it involved all five players on the ice.

Derek Stepan won a puck battle behind the net. St. Louis came in to help him and chipped the puck up the right-wing wall to Brad Richards. Richards and Ryan McDonagh passed the puck back and forth at the points before McDonagh moved it down to Stepan on the left-wing wall. Chris Kreider set a screen in front of Tokarski, and Stepan found St. Louis alone in the slot for a one-timer.

"Everybody who has been on the power play has been contributing to our success, whether it's our shot from the point, our poise, the net front," St. Louis said. "Everybody is part of the equation and everybody wants to be part of the solution."

Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges said the onus is on the penalty killers to do a better job of protecting the middle of the ice and getting into the shooting lanes. He said the Rangers do "nothing crazy" on their power play, and the St. Louis goal was the perfect example.

"When you're shorthanded you know you're going to give up shots, and as best you can you want to give up those shots from the outside and do a good job in front clearing away the rebounds, things like that," Gorges said. "We don't want to give up Grade-A chances in the slot like we did, so we need to tighten up and just be smarter about the way we kill penalties."

The Rangers have also looked brilliant on the penalty kill recently, going 7-for-7 against the Canadiens and 20-for-20 in their past seven games.

Not since 1940 have the Rangers gone at least seven playoff games without giving up a power-play goal. They are 28-for-29 on the penalty kill in their past 10 games.

"Goaltending is the main thing," Rangers forward Rick Nash of the shorthanded success. "The goaltender has to be your best penalty killer and [Henrik Lundqvist] has been by far."

Nash went on to mention shot-blocking and following the game plan set out by assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson. But it's clear that he thinks Lundqvist, with 14 saves against Montreal's power play in the conference final and 32 saves with the Rangers shorthanded in the past seven games, is the biggest difference.

The Canadiens share that line of thinking. They need to look no further than their power play late in Game 2, when they had five shots on goal and six attempts at the net. P.K. Subban had three of the shots on goal and the one that missed.

Lundqvist was a wall, as he was the entire game.

"I think we had eight scoring chances on the power play [in Game 2] and those are Grade-A chances with P.K. in the slot taking a slap shot, or great second and third chances," Montreal forward Max Pacioretty said. "Obviously you want to take away the goaltender's eyes, but obviously us not scoring has padded their stats a little bit."

That's usually how it works. And so far special teams have worked in the Rangers' favor, no matter how you choose to look at it.


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