Two of the NHL’s Original Six will renew their rivalry Wednesday night when the Rangers travel to Montreal to face the Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blueshirts and Habs are meeting in the postseason for the 16th time and have combined for 28 Cup titles.
Just one point separated the Atlantic Division-champion Canadiens and wild-card Rangers, who last met in the postseason in 2014. Much has changed since, but both teams are primed for a thrilling series.
Read on for three keys to the matchup.
Plenty has been made of Carey Price’s quest to avenge his injury in the 2014 Eastern Conference Final. Regardless of his incentive, he has been strong in the crease this year. Price rebounded from midseason struggles, finishing with a .923 save percentage.
Conversely, Lundqvist posted career-worsts in goals against average (2.74) and save percentage (.910) in 2016-17. The 35-year-old has not shut out an opponent since Jan. 22 and surrendered an average of 3.11 goals since the start of March.
Something’s gotta give
With many individual matchups virtually even and the intangibles a tossup, both teams will have to rely on their strengths. The Rangers will try to use their elite scoring attack to overpower an improved Montreal defense.
The Blueshirts ranked fourth in the NHL in scoring, averaging 3.09 goals. The Canadiens ranked 15th, but were a top-five squad in scoring defense by allowing 2.4 goals per game. The Habs have been even better since coach Claude Julien took over in mid-February, surrendering an average 2.08 goals over the last 24 games.
Both squads are dealing with late-season injuries. Montreal defensemen Shea Weber and Jordie Benn are expected to be back in time for Game 1. The same can’t be said for blueliner Alexei Emelin, who went down last week with a lower body injury.
Rangers forwards Mats Zuccarello and Rick Nash have missed time this week, in addition to defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Nick Holden. Fortunately for the Blueshirts, Montreal nemesis and Rangers leading scorer Chris Kreider is healthy.