BROSSARD, Que. â€” When Montreal Canadiens fans think of the playoff series against the New York Rangers in 2014 they see Chris Kreider crashing into and injuring goalie Carey Price in the opening game.
The Canadiens insist that incident wasn’t even discussed as they got ready to face Kreider and the Rangers again in Game 1 of their NHL Eastern Conference first round series on Wednesday night.
Captain Max Pacioretty, when asked about “the incident,” thought it referred to the blind side hit by then Canadien Brandon Prust to Derek Stepan’s jaw in Game 3 of that series, won in six games by New York with backup Dustin Tokarski in the Montreal net.
“That series got a little bit ugly with Prusty’s hit on Steps there, but we’re hockey players,” Pacioretty said this week. “Stuff happens and you move on.
“I know Stepan personally. I know a bunch of guys on their team. It’s not one of those rivalries where you go out there and you’re just thinking about how much you hate each other. It’s more that our teams clash because our playing styles are so similar.”
There are certainly similarities between the two clubs. Montreal finished first in the Atlantic division at 47-26-9 for 103 points. New York was fourth in the stacked Metropolitan at 48-28-6 for 102 points.
Both have a goalie considered among the best in the world in Price and the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist.
They are two teams that play high-tempo hockey, with the Rangers holding the advantage on attack and the Canadiens a little better on defence. Montreal’s power play ranked 13th with a 19.6 per cent success rate this season while New York’s was 12th at 19.8 per cent, although the Canadiens had the 14th best penalty kill while the Rangers were 21st.
It even extends to the two coaches. Montreal’s Claude Julien and New York’s Alain Vigneault are both from the Ottawa area, were minor league teammates as players in the St. Louis Blues organization and both got their first NHL jobs in Montreal.
“They play fast for 82 games and so do we,” said Pacioretty. “You don’t often see that.
“Both teams are built for the playoffs in that sense. We feel we’ve been playing that way for a while now and I’m sure they feel the same.”
They are both mainly healthy, although Canadiens defenceman Alexei Emelin will miss at least the opener with an undisclosed injury. Rearguards Shea Weber and Jordie Benn have both returned from late-season injuries.
Pacioretty left practice early Tuesday after an accidental high stick from Michael McCarron got under his visor but Julien said the team’s medical staff were confident he will be able to play.
A major factor in Montreal’s favour is in head to head meetings with New York. The Canadiens went 3-0-0 against them this season. Much of that comes down to the goaltenders.
Price is 15-5-1 with a 1.82 goals against average and .940 save percentage in his career against the Rangers while Lundqvist, who seems to have never quite got over blowing a 5-0 lead and losing to Montreal on Feb. 20, 2008, is 14-17-3 with a 2.57 average and .898 save percentage against Montreal.
Price had a laugh with the media this week but gave short, sometimes flippant answers to questions.
Asked about the Kreider incident he said “it’s a new day.”
On whether the Rangers would invade his crease again, he said “yeah, that sounds like playoff hockey.”
Asked if the series was a chance for redemption, he said “no, not even a little bit.”
Expect Price to be all business in goal. With the trade last summer that sent popular P.K. Subban to Nashville for Weber, the Canadiens feel they have a shot at a deep playoff run. They will need their sometimes spotty attack to come through, but Weber gives them an imposing presence on the blue line they lacked, to go along with Price’s all-world goaltending.
The Rangers also see themselves as Stanley Cup contenders and are eager to erase the memory of last year’s first-round exit.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press