The New York Rangers had all the comforts of home after spending most of the first month of the season on the road.
The star-studded blue carpet and a full house of their fans at a completely refurbished Madison Square Garden were there Monday night for the Rangers’ home opener.
All that was missing was New York’s offense.
Peter Budaj made 27 saves for his 11th career NHL shutout, and Tomas Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk provided the scoring as the Canadiens spoiled the Rangers’ long-awaited homecoming with a 2-0 victory.
”I think we did a lot of good things,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who made 25 saves after a two-game injury absence. ”We just hoped for an early goal for us to get the energy and confidence and get the building going.
”It was a disappointing loss, but it was great to be back.”
Lundqvist was outshined by Budaj, the Canadiens’ 31-year-old backup to Carey Price. Budaj was at the top of his game despite playing for only the second time this season and first since Oct. 10 at Edmonton when he stopped 27 of 28 shots in a win.
Plekanec scored the go-ahead goal on a power play in the second period. Budaj made it stand up for Montreal (7-5), which had lost three of four since a four-game winning streak.
”Our guys were able to keep our ground and tried to box the players out so I can see the pucks,” Budaj said. ”When I didn’t see them, they blocked the shots. When I saw the puck, I was able to make the save.”
The Canadiens blocked 28 shots.
”All our D and forwards were doing the little things right,” Budaj said. ”It does help tremendously when the team in front of you plays so well and blocks shots.”
Galchenyuk scored his second of the season with 2:51 left with a goal that stood up to a video review. It was scored just moments after Budaj blocked an in-close chance for Mats Zuccarello.
”If that’s not a kick, I don’t know what a kick is,” the aggravated Lundqvist said. ”Seriously, there needs to be some sort of consistency in the calls.
”It’s just a frustrating goal there that kind of kills the whole game. It would be very interesting to hear their explanation for it just to know moving forward what the rule really is.”
New York ended its 3-6 trip with a stirring 3-2 overtime win at Detroit on Saturday. But even with a healthy Lundqvist, the Rangers couldn’t build off that momentum.
”Guys were so excited. There was a definite energy in the room,” forward Chris Kreider said. ”The effort was there — the same effort as Detroit, if not more. We learned from that game and we got better but we didn’t get the result we wanted. So go back to the drawing board.”
Budaj turned aside a quick, hard drive by Kreider by blocking the shot with his glove and deflecting it off the crossbar in the first period.
”I felt pretty solid,” Budaj said. ”I got a little lucky there at the beginning. I was able to make the save, and it hit the crossbar. You always need a little bit of luck.”
Kreider was still shaking his head after the game about his missed opportunity.
”What net didn’t I see? It was wide open,” he said after a deep exhaled breath. ”It’s just another one I’ve got to have.”
Jesper Fast also took two whacks at the puck while stationed at the right post in the closing minutes of the second period without success.
Budaj’s best stop was perhaps 6 minutes into the third period, when the teams were skating 4-on-4 after interference calls 21 seconds apart. J.T. Miller had a partial breakaway in the Montreal zone and fired a drive that Budaj stopped with his left arm.
Miller was denied again by Budaj midway through the third with a hard shot from the right of the crease.
Plekanec made it 1-0 scored with 3:26 left in the second period.
With Brian Boyle serving a roughing penalty, Montreal used a quick three-man passing play to set up Plekanec’s team-leading sixth goal. Brian Gionta moved the puck to Michael Bournival, who made a pass to Plekanec, who came in alone on Lundqvist.
Plekanec went past Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman, skated in on his forehand and shifted the puck to his backhand before depositing a shot behind Lundqvist.
”That defenseman, I don’t think he made such a great play,” Plekanec said. ”He kind of opened that lane for me to go to the net.”
Both teams recorded seven shots in the first period. The Rangers had a 14-11 edge in the second, but couldn’t get a puck past Budaj.
That has been a common theme for the road-weary Rangers, who were shut out twice during their road trip and managed only 15 goals.
Lundqvist showed no signs of injury in his first game back following a week of limited action as he recovered from an undisclosed ailment. He moved well and seemed sharp on most of Montreal’s chances.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said he decided on a goalie for Tuesday’s game at the Islanders, but didn’t reveal his choice.
NOTES: The Rangers sent Fast to Hartford of the AHL after the game. Injured forward Carl Hagelin is expected to join the lineup Tuesday. . . . Budaj improved to 3-1 in four career games against New York. His previous shutout was Feb. 18 against Carolina. . . . Gionta, who had only two penalty minutes in his first 10 games, was called for three penalties in the first two periods. . . . Kreider was called for interference despite not touching two Canadiens who skated into each other. That negated a breakaway chance for Derick Brassard. . . . New York was 0 for 5 on the power play.