Martin St. Louis, Rick Nash help Rangers take 2-0 series lead on Habs
MONTREAL — Henrik Lundqvist has solved his struggles at Montreal’s Bell Centre.
The goalie called King Henrik made 40 saves and the New York Rangers took control of the Eastern Conference final with a 3-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.
The Rangers lead the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final 2-0 heading back to New York for Game 3 on Thursday and Game 4 on Sunday.
The Canadiens, missing star goalie Carey Price because of an injury, came out strong in a bid get past a 7-2 thumping in the series opener only to run into the Lundqvist.
“I thought we played well, and the only reason we lost was Lundqvist,” Montreal coach Michel Therrien said. “He stole that game.”
Lundqvist had struggled playing in Montreal before this series. He hadn’t started a game in Montreal in more than two years.
But the goalie who was bested by Price at the Sochi Olympics as Canada beat Sweden in the final has allowed only three goals on 63 shots in the series.
The Canadiens got the opening goal at 6:14 of the first from Max Pacioretty, but Ryan McDonagh tied it 17 seconds later on a shot that went in off defenseman Josh Gorges and a post.
“We knew they were going to come hard, but we put ourselves in a tough spot there by not getting pucks out,” Lundqvist said. “They were all over us.
“But to tie it up quickly like that, I think that was important to kind of even out the momentum a little bit.”
Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis also scored on Dustin Tokarski, the surprise starter for Montreal ahead of regular backup Peter Budaj.
Tokarski looked shaky at times, but had no chance on two of the three Rangers goals.
The Canadiens had announced Monday morning that Price, the Olympic gold medalist who hurt his right knee in the series opener when he was crashed into by Chris Kreider, would miss the rest of the series.
They hope to have him back if they reach the Stanley Cup final, but their situation looks difficult heading to New York.
“It was a lot of fun,” Tokarski said after his first NHL playoff start. “There was a lot of adrenaline. You grow up as a kid wanting to play in the playoffs, and I got the opportunity and just came up a bit short.”
Therrien said he opted for Tokarski over Budaj because of the youngster’s record of winning championships at other levels.
The 24-year-old from Humboldt, Saskatchewan, has a Memorial Cup, a world junior championship and an AHL title on his resume.
“He’s a winner,” Therrien said. “I thought he played well. We talked to Peter and he reacted as a pro. He’s a good teammate.”
New York coach Alain Vigneault said Montreal’s goalie choice was no surprise.
“Somehow, we had an inkling (Sunday) night that it was probably going to be that gentleman (Tokarski),” Vigneault said with a grin. “Hockey’s a small world.”
But in the end, he agreed that Lundqvist was the difference in the game.
“He’s the only reason we were still in the game,” he said. “They had total control of the pressure.
“A lucky bounce changed the dynamics of the game.”
Montreal outshot New York 41-30.
Montreal’s worst fears were realized in the first period, which it dominated while still falling behind 2-1.
A long period of sustained pressure produced the first goal as Lundqvist’s clearing attempt went off Pacioretty and into the net at 6:14.
But only 17 seconds later, McDonagh swiped a puck toward the net from the point and saw it go in off Gorges’ leg and a post. McDonagh had a goal and an assist to give the defenseman six points in the opening two games of the series.
“The Canadiens were coming wave after wave in the first period,” St. Louis said. “If it wasn’t for Lundqvist, there might have been a different result after the first.
“He gave us time to find our legs. The goal by Mac was a big one. It calmed everyone down and allowed us to regroup.”
The crowd was booing Kreider when he sent a pass across to the right side and Nash’s one-time went in off the midsection of Tokarski, who was late getting across.
It was the second goal in as many games and second of the playoffs for Nash.
Tokarski had no chance as St. Louis wired a shot from the slot on a power play inside the post at 8:03 of the middle period.
The Rangers played a thorough defensive game in the third to prevent a comeback.
St. Louis scored a day after he and his teammates attended the funeral of his mother, who died just before Mother’s Day. The Rangers have rallied around the grieving veteran and have won five in a row since her death.
“It’s been an emotional weekend,” St. Louis said. “I’ll definitely never forget this weekend for many reasons, but I think the grieving process will still take a while.
“But that stuff is behind me. Tonight, we wanted to make sure we’d have the emotion we’d need to win this game because we knew they would come out hard, especially rallying, losing their best player, so I thought we answered.”
*Photo courtesy of Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images