MONTREAL - It was decided before the Rangers took the ice at Bell Centre Saturday night. The Blueshirts have home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and will host the Philadelphia Flyers in Games 1 and 2 this week.
The Flyers defeated the Penguins, 4-3, in overtime Saturday afternoon, clinching third place in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers finished in second place with 96 points and closed 9-2-2 after a 1-0 overtime loss here.
Cam Talbot subbed for Henrik Lundqvist and made 26 saves. But Brian Gionta scored the game-winner on a penalty shot after Raphael Diaz tripped him at 2:04 of overtime.
Game 1 will be played Thursday at Madison Square Garden and Game 2 will be either Saturday or Sunday. Games 3 and 4 will be at Wells Fargo Center.
During the season, the longtime rivals split four games, with the Rangers losing, 2-1, in Philadelphia on Oct. 24, winning at home, 4-1, on Jan. 12, losing again at Wells Fargo, 4-2, on March 1 and winning, 3-1, at the Garden on March 26.
"We know each other very well," Marc Staal said. "It's always tight, always intense."
It will be the first postseason matchup between the two teams since the Eastern Conference finals in 1997, when the Flyers eliminated the Rangers in five games. They also swept the Rangers in the conference semifinals in 1995 and won the division semifinals, 4-2, in 1987.
The Rangers last won the matchup in 1986, when they beat the Flyers, 3-2, in the division semifinals. The Rangers also knocked off the Flyers in the first round in 1982 (3-1) and 1983 (3-0).
But these are different teams now, from coaches down to backup goalies.
"They're kind of like us," Brad Richards said. "They had to play really well in the second half to be in the playoffs" after a rough start.
On Saturday night, with nothing to gain in terms of seeding, the Rangers (45-31-6) gave the Canadiens all they could handle with 41 shots on Carey Price.
Talbot (12-6-1) has allowed two or fewer goals in 16 of 19 starts. He got the nod to give Lundqvist a break after he started 13 of 14 games.
On Nov. 16, Talbot blanked the Canadiens here, stopping 22 shots in a 1-0 victory.
Talbot, 26, didn't think he would be anywhere but the AHL this season, but that was before Martin Biron retired in October. "I didn't really have any expectations," he said. "I'm pretty happy and have been able to contribute."
In the second period, Diaz's slapper from the right side beat Price but caromed off both posts and out. When Alexei Emelin was in the box for a crosscheck, Talbot made a terrific glove save on Tomas Plekanec's shorthanded breakaway and Price stopped Rick Nash at the other end.
"I thought we did a real good job in a tough building to play in," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "It was a great way to prepare ourselves [for the Flyers] . . . It's going to be a real tough series."
Asked when the coaching staff will start to prepare, he looked at his watch and said, "In about two minutes."