MONTREAL - All you needed to know about Henrik Lundqvist's 40-save performance came from two diverse sources after the Rangers' 3-1 victory over the Canadiens that produced a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.
"The reason why we lost the game was Lundqvist," said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien. "He was phenomenal, phenomenal. He stole the game."
And then there was Rick Nash, who may be out of his slump, scoring a goal for a second straight game, this one the winner. Asked how Lundqvist's gem ranked on a scale of one to 10, Nash said: "Twelve."
It was the fifth consecutive win for Lundqvist, who has started 82 straight playoff matches, and will certainly be in net for Games 3 and 4 at Madison Square Garden. The Blueshirts hadn't won five playoff games in a row since 1994, the last time they hoisted the Stanley Cup, which is Lundqvist's aim.
"You have to grab the opportunity to do whatever you can," Lundqvist said. "The last time we were in the conference final [in 2012, a loss to the Devils], we didn't reach our full potential. That's my goal right now, to inspire teammates . . . to reach that level and see how far it takes us."
Now they have some breathing room, after being unable to hold one-game leads four times this postseason In each of the two seven-game series in the previous rounds, against the Flyers, and then the Penguins, the Rangers won Game 1 and lost Game 2. They had lost 13 straight games when leading a playoff series.
That disappointing streak is over, and the tenacious Rangers now have home ice advantage and a chance to put away the Canadiens, who have no Carey Price, just rookie Dustin Tokarski, who was in the net last night, and veteran Peter Budaj.
The Rangers have Lundqvist, who made five of his saves when the Canadiens, on a power play, pulled Tokarski and had a 6-4 advantage.
With the Rangers up 2-1, Alex Galchenyuk was called for tripping Carl Hagelin, a questionable call, and it boosted the Rangers.
Derek Stepan found Martin St. Louis for a one-timer from the high slot that blew by Tokarski at 8:03 of the second period. Ryan McDonagh got the second assist, giving him six points in the two games here. Unhappy with the officiating, fans tossed debris onto the ice.
But the Canadiens could not close the gap, even when Benoit Pouliot went to the box for tripping P.K. Subban at 8:44, as the Rangers' penalty-killers closed lanes, banked clearing passes into the neutral zone and won board battles.
After a ferocious start in which the Canadiens had the first five shots, n St. Louis got the first shot on Tokarski. But the Canadiens kept coming, and scored at 6:14. Lundqvist tried to sweep away a loose puck in front, but it caromed up and in off Max Pacioretty.
But 17 seconds later, the 21,273 fans were silenced, deflated by a Rangers' counter-strike on a fortunate bounce as well. McDonagh's shot hit defenseman Josh Gorges and then the left post behind Tokarski.
With 1:02 left, after Chris Kreider was booed carrying the puck, Nash buried his cross-ice pass inside the right post for the 2-1 edge.