Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final should be remembered in Montreal as the Gueule de Bois-ton: the Boston hangover.
Seven different Rangers scored in New York’s highest offensive output of the postseason. Even the Rangers’ previously anemic power play got in on the act, scoring three times early in the third period to blow open the game. Heck, even New York’s $7.8 million man, Rick Nash, scored his first goal of the playoffs.
Moore’s magic: Rangers forward Dominic Moore could easily have been one of the game’s stars, given his two sterling assists. On the second one, he corralled the puck behind the net and made a no-look, backhand pass onto Ryan McDonagh’s stick. Montreal goalie Carey Price poked the puck between McDonagh’s legs but right onto Mats Zuccarello’s stick for an easy tap-in and a 2-0 lead just 6:27 into the game.
Kreider’s breakaway: Montreal had pulled within 2-1 on Rene Bourque’s deflection and the Canadiens had owned the second period. It seemed like a matter of time before they got the equalizer. Instead, Rangers forward Chris Kreider used his speed to get behind the Montreal defense, take a feed from Rick Nash and beat goalie Carey Price to the short side for a 3-1 lead. That reversed the momentum, and New York scored another second-period goal to ice the game.
1. D Ryan McDonagh, New York: It was sweet revenge for the 2007 Montreal draft pick. McDonagh had a goal and three assists to tie a New York Rangers playoff record with four points by a defenseman. Brian Leetch (twice), Brad Park and Dave Maloney were the others to do the deed.
3. LW Chris Kreider, New York: He had the back-breaking goal late in the second period, an assist and four hits. Kreider looks like he is fully recovered from hand surgery in late March. His speed was a major asset on Saturday.
Key stat: The Rangers scored more than six goals in a playoff game against Montreal for the first time in their lengthy history.
Key player: D Ryan McDonagh, New York: Aside from his record-tying four points, the guy Montreal traded for an aging Scott Gomez (among others) logged a team-high 24:01 of ice time.
What we learned: As we mentioned above, Montreal wasn’t ready to play in this one. On the day before the game, Canadiens center Danny Briere compared Montreal’s win over Boston in the second round to when his Philadelphia Flyers defeated the rival Pittsburgh Penguins in 2012 and then couldn’t get up for the New Jersey Devils in the next round. Montreal was flat, so, in some ways, the blowout loss may have been the best thing possible to get the Canadiens refocused on the task at hand. It’s a seven-game series, so nothing has been determined yet.
It’s hard to imagine the Rangers looking so much quicker than the Canadiens again because, in truth, they are not. But Montreal did allow New York to build some confidence in a couple areas that troubled the Rangers in series wins over Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
New York’s offense needed a breakout, Rick Nash needed a breakout even more and New York’s power play needed it the most. The Rangers went 3 for 7 on the power play, scoring half as many goals with the man advantage as they had in their previous 14 playoff games. Nobody should expect New York to keep up this production, but a more confident offense playing in front of world-class goalie Henrik Lundqvist could prove a tough combination for the Canadiens.
One concern for New York is the health of third-line center Derick Brassard, who has been terrific in the postseason with four goals and seven points. Brassard left the game just 35 seconds into his first shift after a hit from Montreal defenseman Mike Weaver. Vigneault said Brassard is day-to-day but would not elaborate on the injury.
Next game: Monday at Montreal, 8 p.m. ET
Final thought: Two heavyweights square off when Chicago and Los Angeles meet in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final on Sunday afternoon at United Center. The Blackhawks (2010, 2013) and Kings (2012) have won three of the last four Stanley Cups and met last year in the conference final with Chicago prevailing in five games.
Last season’s series was tighter than the five-game verdict suggests, but this one looks like a true toss-up. Chicago lost an entire line to free agency (Viktor Stalberg) and trades (Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik). Worse yet for Chicago, pesky forward Andrew Shaw, who hasn’t played since Game 1 of the Minnesota series due to a right leg injury, won’t play in Game 1. The Blackhawks could really use his grit against L.A.’s physical style.
With Chicago’s forward depth nothing like it was last year — or in 2010 when it won its other title with this core — more pressure will fall on goalie Corey Crawford to match L.A.’s Jonathan Quick.
The Hawks must take advantage of the fact that L.A. just finished its series with Anaheim late Friday night. The Kings will be tired from the cross-country flight and two grueling, seven-game series, but the schedule eases up after this game, affording L.A. a chance to rest and regroup.