The New York Rangers defeated the Montreal Canadiens in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games. The Rangers drew first blood in the series with a shutout win in Game One, with Montreal taking the next two games, before New York won three games in a row to close off the series.
It was a tight series, with one goal virtually deciding all but one game. Two games went to overtime, and only one game had the winning team score more than three goals.
The two teams were evenly-matched, and it showed in the series. There wasn’t much that separated these two teams, but the Rangers won the battles, capitalized on their opportunities and came out on top.
Let’s take a look back to our series preview, and see if our pre-series headlines were true.
New York Rangers vs Montreal Canadiens First Round Series Recap
Goaltending Duel for the Ages
Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price did not disappoint. For fans of low-scoring games with intense goalie battles, this series was a dream. Lundqvist came out on top in this series, and played so well that Price, a Vezina Trophy nominee, looked just average.
Lundqvist allowed 11 goals in the six-game series, while Price allowed just 12. The difference is that the Montreal Canadiens took 206 shots on Lundqvist. The Rangers took 179 on Price. The Rangers goalie finished with a 1.70 goals-against average and .947 save percentage, while the Habs netminder had a 1.86 GAA and .933 SV%.
Lundqvist arguably stole every single win for New York in this series. In their first win, he posted a shutout as Tanner Glass scored the lone goal. In their next three wins, the Blueshirts needed to put two, three and two goals past Price. Lundqvist’s play allowed the Rangers to score a near-minimum amount of goals and still win.
Lundqvist clearly exercised his demons against the Canadiens. He has a career regular-season record against Montreal of 14-17-3 with a .898 SV% and 2.87 GAA. He put everything behind him and focused on this series. The 35-year-old was dialled in, and continued getting stronger as each game went on. The Canadiens scored only four goals in the second and third periods in the series.
Price played well enough to keep his team in it, but didn’t steal any games. He did not receive any help from his offense, and he would have needed to post a shutout at least in games Four and Six if they wanted to win. Many Habs fans will be quick to criticize Price, but he did everything but score a goal.
We opened the phone lines Sunday morning on #TSN690 and nearly every caller wanted to trade Carey Price.
A Long Memory
Even though only a handful of players remain from the 2014 Eastern Conference Final battle between the two teams, the bad blood spilled over. There were three fights in the series. Shea Weber hammered on J.T. Miller in Game Two, Brendan Smith took his frustrations out on Andrew Shaw in Game Five, and Max Pacioretty used Jimmy Vesey to try to get his team going in Game Six.
In other words, the two teams did not like each other. There was a lot of open-ice hitting and scrapping after the whistles, and it made for an exciting series. Some of the hatred stemmed from a Shaw hit on Jesper Fast in January, or Miller trying to get in Price’s face late in a game in March, when the Habs were winning 4-1.
Before the series, many thought Chris Kreider would be the target of fights and big hits, but he was quiet in that category. He stayed away from Price for most of the series, although the Bell Centre held its collective breath when Price went out to play a puck early in Game One with Kreider speeding down the ice towards the goalie, only to avoid him.
Similar Playing Styles
This prediction was slightly off. The Canadiens played a dump-and-chase game, while the Rangers tended to carry the puck in more. Montreal’s defensemen allowed the opposing forwards some space through the neutral zone before committing to a hit or poke check, while New York clogged up the area between the blue lines. The Habs cycled and looked for a perfect shot, while the Blueshirts shot from anywhere.
However, there was one big similarity in how both teams defended their opponents best players. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi shut down the Habs top line, and in particular Pacioretty, who had zero goals on 28 shots. Phillip Danault was also limited to two assists, but they couldn’t contain Alexander Radulov, who had two goals and five assists.
On the other end, Weber and Andrei Markov held Kreider to one assist. Derek Stepan also only had one assist, but scored an empty-net goal. Like Radulov, they couldn’t hold Mats Zuccarello off the score sheet. He had three goals, including both goals on Price in Game Six.
Teams are supposed to shut down the opponent’s best players in the playoffs, and that’s where depth scoring comes in.
Rangers Have More Depth at Forward
Without a doubt, the New York Rangers bottom-six forwards out-played the Montreal Canadiens bottom-six. Fast and Rick Nash each had two goals and one assist, Michael Grabner had two goals, and Vesey had two assists.
For the Canadiens, their only contribution from the bottom-six came from Torrey Mitchell‘s one goal and Alex Galchenyuk‘s three assists. Artturi Lehkonen, who had two goals and two assists, did play on the third line. But he found some time on the second line in place of Paul Byron, who finished with a single goal.
The depth players on the Habs were just not good enough offensively. The Rangers rolled four scoring lines, and that’s what contributed to their series win.
Looking Back on Our Predictions
Not many experts around the hockey world predicted a Rangers win. At Last Word on Hockey, we were no different. Four out of our 15 experts predicted New York, and all of them said they would win in 7.