For the first time since 2014, the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers will play each other in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is the 16th all-time playoff meeting between the Original Six franchises, and only the second time they meet in the first round. The Rangers have won eight series against the Habs, with the most recent being the six-game series in the 2014 Eastern Conference Final. The Canadiens last playoff win over the Blueshirts is a five-game victory in the 1986 Prince of Wales Conference Final.
Montreal swept the season series with wins of 5-4 on January 14, 3-2 (SO) on February 21, and 4-1 on March 4. The Canadiens won seven of the last nine regular-season meetings against the Rangers since the 2014 playoff series.
Montreal Canadiens vs New York Rangers First Round Series Preview
Goaltending Duel for the Ages
Carey Price versus Henrik Lundqvist. That was the goaltending match-up at the 2014 Olympics Gold Medal game, and again in that year’s Eastern Conference Final. However, the latter only lasted for less than 40 minutes. As the famous story goes, Rangers forward Chris Kreider ran into Price late in the second period of Game 1. Price injured his knee and was out for the rest of the series. Dustin Tokarski filled in, and provided a less-than-headline-grabbing goalie duel.
Barring any injuries, Price and Lundqvist should get their first full playoff series against each other. Price’s career numbers against the Rangers are staggering. He has a 15-5-1 record, .940 save percentage and 1.82 goals-against average. The only teams against whom he has more wins are division rivals Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. His SV% and GAA against New York are also his best numbers against any Eastern Conference team.
Lundqvist on the other hand, tells a different story. He has a 14-17-3 record with a .898 SV% and 2.87 goals-against average versus Montreal. Against no other Eastern Conference team does he boast a lower save percentage, and higher goals-against average.
Lundqvist looked shaky in the games against the Canadiens this season. He was particularly off when the Canadiens put four past him in their previous meeting at the beginning of March. Price, on the other hand, he was fantastic in their February 21 meeting, including an overtime robbery on J.T. Miller.
Maybe there’s just something about the Canadiens that daunts Lundqvist. Maybe Price sees motivation playing against the Rangers. Whatever the case, Price, and therefore the Canadiens, have a huge advantage in the goaltending duel. The Rangers will not win the series if Lundqvist does not step up his game.
A Long Memory
The Kreider-Price incident from 2014 might have a big effect on this series. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are full of passion. Knowing an opponent took your star goalie out could leave a lasting impression. Only eight Canadiens players remain on the team, while the Rangers still have nine players from the 2014 series. Regardless of who played then, everybody knows the history.
Then there’s the fans. Hopefully the majority of both team’s fan bases remained in the past three years. They will never forget the fierce rivalry that developed in the series. Since then, the Bell Centre faithful boo Kreider whenever he steps on the ice.
Brandon Prust broke Derek Stepan‘s jaw late in the 2014 series, and even though Prust is no longer with the Habs, Rangers fans won’t soon forget it. Unlike the Montreal fans, whose hate is directed to one player, Rangers fans may have a bitter hatred towards the Habs as a team.
Anytime time Original Six teams face off in the playoffs, it becomes a one-of-a-kind spectacle. Both fans will be behind their teams, and will have a huge part in the series.
Similar Playing Styles
There might not be another first round series featuring two teams with more similar playing styles. Top to bottom, the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers are built alike. Both teams have All-Star goalies who can change the game with a save.
Shea Weber and Ryan McDonagh are two of the best at their position, and have a strong supporting cast around them. The Rangers and Canadiens both have strong, physical defensemen, and puck-moving defensemen. And as the anecdote of “you can never have too many defenseman” goes, both teams have a deep roster at the position. It should be interesting to see if either coach deploys physical, stay-at-home defensemen for the bottom pairing, like Jordie Benn and Kevin Klein, or puck-movers like Nikita Nesterov and Brendan Smith.
Rangers Have More Depth at Forward
On the front end, in what both teams lack in size, they make up with speed, especially for the top-six forwards.
The Rangers top line of Mats Zuccarello, Stepan and Kreider each have over 50 points and could kill the Canadiens with speed. They will be going up against the Habs top line of Phillip Danault, Alexander Radulov and Max Pacioretty. The Rangers first line may have a bit more firepower than that of the Habs, but Radulov and Pacioretty have shown this season that they could single-handedly turn a game on its head.
The Rangers do have a ton more depth at forward. New York has 11 players with 30 points or more, while the Habs only have seven.
The Rangers second line of Mika Zibanejad, Rick Nash and Miller could do a lot more damage than Artturi Lehkonen, Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher. The players on the Rangers second line each finished with more than 35 points, while the Habs second does not have a player with more than 30 points.
Montreal’s third and fourth lines have contrasting styles, while the Rangers bottom-six is similar to their top-six. On the Canadiens third line, Dwight King, Paul Byron and Andrew Shaw each have the ability to contribute offensively. Their fourth line, a carousel between grit players and Alex Galchenyuk, brings a physical presence to the game.
On the other hand, the Rangers bottom-two lines are built off speed and little physicality. It will be entertaining to see if that helps the Rangers past the Habs. Or if the Habs strong fourth line will throw the Rangers bottom-six off their game.
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- Jake Howorth: Rangers in 7.