Though the first game has already taken place between the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers, in which the Rangers gave the Canadiens a beating, there is still a lot of hockey yet to play before one of these two teams goes on to meet the Western Conference Final championship in the Stanley Cup Finals.
After the Canadiens finished the Boston Bruins in Game Seven, P.K. Subban told Pierre McGuire, “I said a couple of things I probably, normally, wouldn’t have said; talking about the crowd and taking the energy away from them; taking everything away from them.”
While it is true that the Canadiens won the series and sent the Bruins to an earlier summer than they would have liked, his comments seemed to indicate almost an idea that the Canadiens had won the Cup, rather than just completed round two. Given the kiss that Subban planted on McGuire at the end of the interview, it would seem that at least he was feeling the team had won a lottery.
During his interview on Friday after the New York Rangers practice in Montreal, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault was asked about his team fighting complacency, which apparently was something that the Canadiens were fighting.
“One thing that Montreal has to know is, I know that they felt that the Boston Bruins didn’t respect them very much. We’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for them, for their players, their staff,” Vigneault answered. “They’re a great organization, and right now they’re the team to beat. We’re coming in here and we’re going to try to put our best foot forward. We know it’s a tough challenge for us, but we’re going to give it our best.”
And perhaps that explains the routing that the Rangers gave the Canadiens in game one. The Rangers came to play and perhaps the Canadiens thought less of the Rangers than they should have. Hockey is not only a game of mistakes; it is a game of not underestimating your opponent.
Subban said that he felt “sorry for the team that’s got to come in our building” for the Eastern Conference Final. And at least in game one it was the Rangers who took the energy from the Montreal fans.
When asked about what the Canadiens could do to have an impact on New York’s goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, it seemed that Therrien didn’t want to dwell on the embarrassing game, preferring to look forward.
“Yesterday’s game is behind us. It’s like we know what we’re supposed to do, and yesterday we didn’t do it at all, at all. I don’t want to talk about that game like everything was bad for us last night and we’ve got to move on,” he said. “I like the way they respond because we always show the right attitude. Tomorrow we will have the right attitude to approach tomorrow night’s game.”
One game at a time is certainly the best approach when getting this far into the playoff season. Regardless of that approach though, it is clear that Lundqvist is back in his zone. Despite the many commentators who have spoken at length about the immense experience with pressure that Price apparently has weathered from his recent play at the Sochi Olympics, those same commentators would do well to remember that it was Lundqvist’s second trip to the Olympics.
Many, early in the season, when the New York Rangers struggled, wrote them off. Being on the road for the first six weeks of your regular season is certainly not an ideal way to begin the 82-game schedule. However, it is possible that such a beginning has given the Rangers a stronger ethic when on the road. And though historically, throughout the regular season, the Rangers have gone 64-200-40-2 in the 306 games played in Montreal, one thing is certain—the playoffs are definitely not the regular season.
Both teams have long and proud histories that they would like to reclaim in the form of the Stanley Cup’s return. As a result, neither team is going to give up easily. And though the Canadiens may not have been as prepared as they should have been for game one, the Rangers would be foolish to think the next games will be a cake walk.
“I think that over the years I’ve been playing here, I don’t think a lot of teams have showed us respect,” Subban said after the Canadiens beat the Bruins. “I think we earned that today.”
Unfortunately when it comes to playoff hockey, respect must be earned over and over again. Character and confidence must be shown for a minimum of sixty minutes after the puck drops on each playoff game. And the team that brings that commitment will be the one to go on to the Stanley Cup Finals.