The New York Rangers opened the Eastern Conference Final with a convincing 7-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre Saturday afternoon. The series marks the first time the two teams have faced each other in the postseason in 18 years, and represents goaltender Henriq Lundqvist’s first win in the Bell Centre since March 2009. Lundqvist entered the series on a 3-game winning streak and is currently tied with the highest playoff save percentage in this post-season. It also marks the first time a Rangers team saw seven different players score one goal in a post-season game since 1986.
Martin St. Louis opened scoring 4 minutes into the first period with a wrist shot that ricocheted past Habs goaltender Carey Price. Mats Zuccarello followed up just minutes later giving the Rangers a 2-0 lead as the horn sounded on the first. The second period went without a goal, until Rene Bourque scored a controversial goal on Rangers goalie Henriq Lundqvist involving the Rangers claiming the Habs had too many men on the ice. After closing the lead, it would remain a one-goal game until the Rangers scored two goals on Price in the closing minutes of the second.
The third period saw a change in goaltenders as Habs back-up Peter Budaj took his place between the pipes to mark his first playoff appearance with the team. Less than two minutes into the third, Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh rocketed a slapshot past Budaj, followed up closely by Derek Stepan with a 5-on-3 power play goal assisted by St. Louis. Rick Nash scored the Rangers’ seventh goal of the night, ending a scoring drought stretching 17 playoff games. The Habs scored their second goal of the game, a slapshot by Lars Eller, with less than five minutes remaining.
“We know we can be a lot better than that. We’ll be ready to play next game. There’s so much hockey left to play in this series. We’ve already put this one behind us,” P.K. Subban said after the game.
“This is a good hockey team,” said Habs Head Coach Michel Therrien post-game. “They just beat the Pittsburgh Penguins. But we didn’t play our game. That is the most important thing. We didn’t give ourselves a chance to win this hockey game. So we’re going to regroup and make sure next game that we’re going to compete a lot harder and be more alert.”
At the end of the game, Marty St. Louis earned the game’s first star. His teammates also honoured him in the locker room with the ‘Broadway Hat’ as the team’s way of showing their support for St. Louis following the death of his mother just one week prior. “Tonight he got us going. It’s been an emotional week but the way you stepped up again Marty, it’s unbelievable,” said Lundqvist as he presented the honour to his teammate, much to the rapturous applause of the Rangers locker room. St. Louis responded graciously, “Big win boys.”
In a post-game interview, St. Louis expanded on the support he has received from the team.
“It’s been an emotional time for everybody, but the guys have been behind me and supporting me. Their effort is unbelievable. You know we’re for sure very close right now, and we’re trying to keep feeding off that.”
The puck drops on Game 2 May 19 at the Bell Centre, Montreal.