MONTREAL - The Rangers were moments away from winning the first two games of their best-of-seven series on the road, but a Tomas Plekanec goal with 17.3 seconds remaining in the game spoiled the party for the vistors.
New York was unable to recover and Alexander Radulov's goal with 1:26 remaining in overtime gave the Canadiens a 4-3 victory to even the best-of-seven series, 1-1, as it heads back to Madison Square Garden.
"It's hard," said Henrik Lundqvist, who was sensational in setting a new playoff career-high with 54 saves, but was unable to stop Plekanec after Nick Holden broke his stick, allowing the Canadien to redirect a Radulov centering pass. "The way it started was tough too. The broken stick, they tie it with a broken stick in front so obviously we could have had some more luck there. We made some good plays to stay in this game and we had a good chance to win it."
New York had little time to shake off the emotion of surrendering the tying goal, and Montreal carried the momentum in the third period, with Radulov eventually stuffing home a rebound in front for the game-winner.
"You're so close to winning that game and then that happens, it's tough," said Rick Nash, who scored in the second period to tie the game, 2-2. "It's part of being a professional in this sport. You've got to let it and come out [in overtime] and start fresh. That's how playoff hockey works."
After stopping everything he saw Wednesday, Montreal was able to break through Lundqvist early on a goal by Jeff Petry just 4:05 into the contest.
Video: NYR@MTL, Gm2: Lundqvist slams the door on Byron
Lundqvist, though, made a crucial stop on Paul Byron, who broke in on a breakaway with 6:36 remaining in the first.
The save loomed even larger as Michael Grabner broke in on a breakaway of his own and beat Carey Price just 24 seconds after Lundqvist's stop on Byron.
Video: NYR@MTL, Gm2: Grabner finishes with pretty deke
Montreal would regain the lead before the end of the first period when Byron was able to beat Lundqvist with 4:18 remaining in the opening frame.
The physicality heated up in the second period when tempers rose after a whistle, leading to fighting majors to J.T. Miller and Shea Weber, as well as roughing minors to Mats Zuccarello and Jordie Benn, with Zuccarello getting four minutes.
Video: NYR@MTL, Gm2: Nash goes top shelf to knot the score
The Rangers were able to kill off the minor and moments later Nash evened the score with a beautiful top-shelf goal 9:58 into the middle period. The Rangers would take the lead at 14:47 on Zuccarello's first of the series.
But Montreal appeared to be the more desperate of the two teams and controlled the play in the third period, outshooting the Rangers 19-8, including the Plekanec tying goal.
Despite allowing the four goals, Lundqvist was again New York's best player, who eclipsed his former playoff best by five saves.
"There's no doubt he played a great game," coach Alain Vigneault said. "He gave us what you want from a goaltender is a chance to win the game. He gave us a chance.
The disappointment was evident inside the Rangers' dressing room of an opportunity lost. But New York was able to get the split at the hostile Bell Centre, and now will return home Sunday for two straight at The Garden.
"Just get over this tonight and recharge," Lundqvist said when asked about his mindset for the next 48 hours. "I look forward to playing in front of our own fans. That's exciting. We expected this to be a tough series. They're a good team. They're a fast team that creates a lot and [has] good goaltending so it hasn't changed. We go home and get ready for Game 3."