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Rangers rout Habs to gain upper hand in Eastern final

New York Rangers right wing Martin St. Louis (26) scores a goal against Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) during the first period in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell Centre.

Jean-Yves Ahern/USA Today Sports

It's a sequence that will have put hearts in mouths in Montreal.

Just over three minutes into the second period of the Eastern Conference final, speedy New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider chipped the puck around onrushing Canadiens defenceman Alexei Emelin and went barreling toward the Habs' net.

As Emelin tried a stick-check from his right and Montreal forward Dale Weise closed in from the left, Kreider abruptly fell backward, his skates lifted off the ice, and he slammed feet-first into Price's right leg, which appeared to bend awkwardly as the net came off its moorings.

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The 26-year-old goalie, who has arguably been the best netminder in the league to this point in the playoffs, spread out on the ice in obvious pain – he missed eight games earlier this year because of what is believed to be right knee tendinitis – but got up under his own steam.

As trainers came out to see him, he flexed his leg several times and ultimately decided to carry on.

Price would finish the period – giving up a pair of late goals – and started the third on the bench.

That he was able to take his seat rather than spend the third in the medical room is surely an encouraging sign.

After the game, Price wasn't available to talk about the incident, but coach Michel Therrien passed it off as a simple mishap.
"I think it was accidental, honestly. The fact (Price) didn't play in the third period was more to protect him than anything, because we were not sharp in front of him," he said.

When Therrien was asked specifically whether his Olympic champion goalie will be at his post on Monday, he wouldn't confirm it.

At the same time, he did say lifting him from the game "had nothing to do" with the collision.

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So there's no firm evidence that Price won't be available for game two, but should he not be able to start – or if he is forced to play in pain – it will place the Habs at a serious disadvantage.

Backup Peter Budaj has shown this season that he's a palatable plan B, but he's no Price.

On Saturday the Slovak gave up three goals in relief – in fairness, this one wasn't on him.

After the game Kreider, a 23-year-old Boston College product, described the collision from his point of view.

"So Nash did a really good job of chipping the puck out, I thought Emelin was coming across kind of hard, so I chipped it ahead, and it wasn't sitting for me. I had my head down, trying to settle the puck, I think I got a shot – no, I put it wide, right? Somehow I lost my footing," he said, "I thought maybe somebody pressured me from behind, I seem to have an issue standing on my feet on those. Then I went in skates-first, I just had too much momentum, I couldn't really avoid him. But yeah, it didn't feel too good for me either."

What did feel good for the Rangers was breaking their longstanding hoodoo at the Bell Centre.

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The two goals they scored in a 1:52 span in the first period – the first from Martin St. Louis, who will bury his mother on Sunday in nearby Laval, Que., and the second from Mats Zuccarello – equaled their total output from the last five games they've played against Montreal.

"We're really not thinking about that anymore. We're obviously going to play a few games here and we've gotta go out, focus and do our job. You can't think about the surroundings," said former Habs draft pick Ryan McDonagh, who matched a team record with four points by a defenceman (a goal and three assists). "We do a good job on the bench of staying focused when the crowd gets into it and don't fall into a trap of going outside our game."

Goalie Henrik Lundqvist carried a 4-11 record and .887 save percentage in his last 15 games against Montreal into Saturday's conference final opener with the Canadiens, and a career save percentage in the Bell Centre of .876.

Whatever, he's now 1-0 in the building in the playoffs on the heels of a 7-2 win, everyone can agree that's what matters most.

"I haven't played here in a while, but it's still the same game. Last time I played here, we had a different team, and I think I've grown as a goalie as well. But every time you play the game you have to show yourself and your teammates that you can play," he said. "So, yeah, we got a great start here and a good win. But it's about doing it again in the next one. But obviously, we haven't won that many games in this building, so it's good to get a great start and know that when we pay attention to all the details, that we can get the result we want."

The Habs were 0-3 in day games this calendar year going into game one, so a slow start was predictable; a loss may have been too, but their heaviest defeat of the playoffs isn't an auspicious sign.

That said, Montreal made a furious push in the second period, and looked to be heading into the second intermission with a manageable 2-1 deficit before the roof fell in and the Rangers scored twice in the final minute.

When Therrien was asked whether his team needs to make any technical adjustments to cope with the Rangers' speed, he said the first step is for his team to show up and be ready.

"There aren't many big adjustments to make when you're not prepared mentally or physically. So you have no chance to win a game. We made a lot of mental mistakes," he said. "After a tough first period we got some momentum in the second that was allowing us to attack the third period on the right foot. Then in the last minute we gave up two goals because of mental errors we don't usually make."

The loss, he said "brought us back to earth."

Unusually, the Habs are scheduled for a full practice on Sunday ahead of game two – generally the team is given a day off on Sunday, or undertakes a light workout – but after this performance, it can't hurt to brush up on breakouts and defensive zone coverage.

"We know we can be better than that," said defenceman P.K. Subban. "We'll be ready for the next game . . . there's no panic in this room."

Historically-inclined Habs fan will note their team also lost handily in the first game of their 1979 Stanley Cup final series with the Rangers, that after a bruising and emotion-filled seven-game encounter with Boston.

They then reeled off five straight wins.

But there's no Guy Lafleur, or Big Three on this club.

Montreal also did struggling Team Canada winger Rick Nash a favour by allowing him to snap his playoff-long scoring drought with a third-period power-play marker.

Speaking of which, the Rangers' ineffective man-advantage scored three out of the seven times it was sent out on the ice (in fact, the goals came from three straight power plays in the third).

The Rangers couldn't have diagrammed a better start, and duly opened the scoring after pressuring the Habs in the early going with their speed.

Montreal had the opening scoring chance – after 30 seconds, Rene Bourque was on hand to whack a close-in shot off Lundqvist – but from then on the visitors stepped on the gas.

With the Habs defence lost at sea after a deflected shot, Dominic Moore threw an astute back-hand pass across the crease, Andrei Markov tried to kick it out of the air, and when he missed, Price could do nothing about Martin St. Louis' shot into the top shelf.

That came at 4:35, and as he celebrated, the Laval, Que., native – who will attend his mother's funeral on Sunday along with the rest of his team – had a Rocket Richard-like fierceness burning in his eyes.

Barely two minutes later, the Rangers were on the board again, this time Zuccarello was on hand to bat home a loose puck after Price's net-front poke check on McDonagh sent the puck directly on to his stick.

Again, it was a case of Montreal breaking down in its own end – Josh Gorges was a step late on getting to Zuccarello, Subban was chasing Moore behind the net, and Brian Gionta had allowed McDonagh to get to the front of the net.

Therrien immediately called time-out, but it didn't exactly spur his troops.

Sure, the Habs generated a handful of reasonable scoring opportunities, but their nascent push was derailed by back-to-back hooking penalties to Bourque.

Earlier in the period, the Rangers lost Derick Brassard, their second-line centre, after he took a heavy shoulder check from Montreal's Mike Weaver.

In the second, Lundqvist stepped to the fore as the Habs ratcheted up the temperature.

First he denied Brendan Gallagher on a tricky shot through a screen, then he stole a sure goal from Subban after the Montreal defenceman went on one of his patented rushes and found himself in the slot with the puck on his stick.

Then he made a glove save on Max Pacioretty, and added a little windmill for dramatic effect.

The Habs managed to draw within a goal when Bourque's shot bounced up off McDonagh and past Lundqvist, New York coach Alain Vigneault complained mildly that the Habs had too many men on the ice in the build-up to the goal, but it stood.

Lundqvist then continued his heroics, thwarting former teammate Brandon Prust on a two-on-one break.

Late in the period, New York stretched their lead to 3-1 when Kreider scored on his third breakaway of the period – as they had been for most of the day, Emelin and Andrei Markov were victimized by Kreider's speed.

Then, with barely 18 seconds to play in the period, a neutral zone turnover from Subban ended up in the net after Zuccarello's pass found Brad Richards at the side of the net, and he snapped a shot past Price, who had leaned the wrong way.

In the third, the goals kept on coming.

First Subban was whistled for an inadvertent high stick on former teammate Benoit Pouliot, McDonagh ripped a one-timer past Budaj's glove to make it 5-1 at 1:28 of the period.

Then Pacioretty was spotted roughing Marc Staal, and on the subsequent power-play, Prust gave Kreider a two-handed chop and then pitchforked him in front of the net.

He earned a double-minor and a 10-minute misconduct for his trouble.

Derek Stepan made it 6-1 on the five-on-three, then Nash snapped his drought 25 seconds later.

Lars Eller sent a short-handed rocket into the top shelf with just under five minutes to play – the puck may have deflected off a defender – but it didn't qualify as consolation.

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More

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