After allowing their highest goal total in nearly two months, the New York Rangers could use another performance like the one they had the last time they faced Montreal.
Given the way the Canadiens have been playing, however, they don’t appear likely to throw another zero up on the Madison Square Garden scoreboard Thursday night.
The Rangers (27-14-4) were on a 16-3-0 tear entering the All-Star break, allowing no more than three goals over that stretch, but came out of the hiatus with a 4-1 loss to the first-place Islanders on Tuesday.
Henrik Lundqvist, who went 14-2-0 during the surge with a 1.71 goals-against average, allowed all four goals on 38 shots in his worst start since giving up five on 20 shots in a 6-4 loss at Tampa Bay on Dec. 1.
While the Rangers managed to put the puck on net 41 times, they didn’t score until Carl Hagelin’s power-play goal with 8.1 seconds left.
"I don’t know if it was us mishandling (the puck) or a combination of that and them forcing us into mistakes, but we made some bad decisions that really cost us," coach Alain Vigneault said.
The Rangers might like their chances of bouncing back against the Canadiens (30-13-3) after ripping them 5-0 at the Garden on Nov. 23 behind Lundqvist’s 21 saves, but Montreal didn’t have Carey Price in goal for that one and hasn’t been shut out since.
The Canadiens’ loss to the Rangers in last season’s Eastern Conference finals had plenty to do with Price suffering a knee injury in the opener. Price has won six of his last eight regular-season starts against New York with a 0.87 GAA and four shutouts.
That success, though, hinges entirely on location. All four of Price’s shutouts were played at Montreal, while his career record at the Garden is 1-4-0 with a 3.98 GAA. He was in net opposite Lundqvist at home Oct. 25 and had 34 saves in the Canadiens’ 3-1 win.
The results are similar for Lundqvist, who has a 3.81 career GAA in regular-season starts at Montreal but a 1.95 mark at home against the Canadiens with 10 of his 14 wins.
Price is a big reason Montreal is 13-3-1 since Dec. 9, posting a 1.64 GAA in that span while going 11-2-1.
He weathered 42 shots and made several impressive saves to earn his third straight victory Tuesday as Montreal came out of the break to beat Dallas 3-2.
"It’s what we’ve come to expect," winger Brendan Gallagher said of Price. "He was unreal, save after save. There were a lot of times where it looked like they had pretty open nets, they were getting pretty good chances, and he was there to bail us out."
Gallagher, Alexei Emelin and Alex Galchenyuk scored for Montreal, which has gone 5 for 12 on the power play during its three-game win streak. Galchenyuk has a goal in all three games, matching the longest such streak of his career.
This contest marks the third and final meeting between these clubs this season.