Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Montreal vs. NY Rangers

( - The Montreal Canadiens went toe-to-toe with the Eastern Conference's presumptive favorites in the second round and knocked the mighty Boston Bruins to the mat.

The Habs eclipsed the Bruins in seven games, upsetting the defending East champions and this season's Presidents' Trophy winners with a 3-1 road victory in Game 7.

As a result, Montreal finds itself in the conference finals for only the second time since winning its last Stanley Cup title in 1993. The Canadiens are hoping for a better result this time around after getting beat in five games by Philadelphia for the East title in 2010.

Montreal also holds a nation's Stanley Cup dreams in its hands, as no Canadian club has lifted hockey's ultimate trophy since the Habs did so in '93. The Canadiens entered this postseason as the one and only representative from north of the border and still has a chance to return the Cup to Canada.

Although the Habs dismantled Tampa Bay in a four-game sweep in the opening round, Montreal clearly was an underdog against Boston.

Montreal has speed on offense, a talented blue line led by P.K. Subban and a great goaltender in Carey Price, but Boston seemed to have the Canadiens beat in terms of overall depth and was obviously more experienced when it came to winning in the playoffs. The Bruins also had a tremendous size advantage over Montreal and Boston was supposed to wear the smaller Canadiens down as the series wore on.

Of course, that didn't happen. Montreal got under the skin of Boston's best players and the club's speed negated the size advantage held by the Bruins.

Subban, last season's Norris Trophy winner, further solidified his star status in Round 2, posting four goals and three assists in the seven games against Boston. The 25-year-old defenseman has 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) in 11 playoff games this spring and has nine goals and 19 assists over 37 career postseason tilts.

Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien has used Subban for an average of 26 minutes, 45 seconds in this postseason, placing him nearly 20 seconds of Andrei Markov (26:26) for the team lead. Subban is partnered with Josh Gorges for the most part, while Markov makes up a solid second-pairing with Alexei Emelin.

Nathan Beaulieu, a first-round pick (17th overall) in the 2011 draft, replaced Douglas Murray for the last two games against Boston and expects to start this series in the lineup.

Price anchored Team Canada to a gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and is carrying that success into the NHL playoffs. He has compiled a 2.15 goals against average and .926 save percentage in 11 games this spring, doing serious damage to the notion he struggles come playoff time.

The 26-year-old Price ended the Boston series on a high note, posting a shutout in Game 6 and stopping 29-of-30 shots in the final clash of the conference semifinals.

While Subban is leading Montreal in points this spring, the club's forward group boasts seven players with three goals or more and nine guys with at least five points.

Thomas Vanek has a team-high five goals. while Rene Bourque, Lars Eller and Brendan Gallagher each have hit the net four times this postseason.

Max Pacioretty has three goals and four assists in the playoffs and more than half of his points came in the final three games against Boston. The team's leading goal-scorer during the regular season with 39 tallies, Pacioretty had two goals and two assists from Game 5 on against the Bruins.

Danny Briere, meanwhile, proved once again what a dangerous player he can be at this time of the season. After disappointing with 13 goals and 12 assists over 69 games in his first campaign with the Montreal, the 36-year-old has notched two goals and four assists in 10 playoff games. He had a goal and an assist in Game 7 at Boston, giving Briere 115 points (52G, 63A) over 118 career playoff games.

The Habs also could have forward Alex Galchenyuk back for this series. The 20- year-old had 13 goals and 18 assists in 656 games this season, but he has yet to play in the playoffs due to a lower-body injury. Galchenyuk has been cleared for contact by team doctors and could return to the lineup early in the East finals.

Montreal has been deadly on the power play this spring, scoring 10 times on 38 opportunities with the man advantage for a success rate of 26.3 percent. The penalty kill has not been quite as good, with the Habs surrendering five goals on 25 power-play chances for the opposition.

The Canadiens ranked fourth in the league in penalty killing during the regular season and were 19th on the power play.


REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 45-31-6 (2nd place, Metropolitan)

2014 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Philadelphia 4-3 in conference quarterfinals, defeated Pittsburgh 4-3 in conference semifinals

Down 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2, it seemed like the Rangers were headed for an early playoff exit.

That's when things changed in a hurry.

Whether you believe New York rallied around teammate Martin St. Louis, who lost his mother to a heart attack during the second round, or the Penguins simply suffered another playoff meltdown, the Rangers managed to turned their postseason around just in time.

New York won the final three games against Pittsburgh to reach the Eastern Conference finals for the second time in three years. The Blueshirts also came back from down 3-1 to win a series for the first time in the franchise's long history.

The Rangers were outscored 11-5 by the Penguins over the first four games of the conference semis, but won the final three tilts by a combined 10-3 margin.

Not surprisingly, superstar goaltender Henrik Lundqvist played a huge role for New York in the second round. The Swedish backstop stopped 102-of-105 shots (.971 save percentage) over the final three games against the Pens and Lundqvist made 35 saves to anchor New York's 2-1 Game 7 victory in Pittsburgh.

Lundqvist, who also won a home Game 7 against Philadelphia in the first round, is 8-6 this postseason with a sparkling 1.99 goals against average and .931 save percentage.

While "King Henrik" has dominated in the crease, St. Louis and Brad Richards, both members of Tampa Bay's Stanley Cup-winning team in 2004, are currently leading the Rangers on offense.

Richards, the 2004 Conn Smythe winner, has four goals and five assists to pace the club in points this spring, while St. Louis has three goals and five assists. Richards scored the game-winning goal in Game 7 against Pittsburgh and is tied for the team lead in postseason markers with fellow forwards Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan.

St. Louis, who played in Game 5 in Pittsburgh just one day after learning of the death of his mother, only had a goal and an assist in Round 2 but both points were crucial to the series win. The diminutive winger tallied the first goal of a 3-1 win over the Pens in Game 6 and had the primary assist on Richards' winner in the decisive seventh meeting.

Chris Kreider's also played a big role in New York's comeback over the Penguins. Kreider returned from wrist surgery to make his 2014 postseason debut in Game 4 of the second round and his speed and size certainly made an impact. Kreider had a goal and an assist in four games and scored on the power play in Game 5 to halt New York's 0-for-36 drought with the man advantage.

The 23-year-old Kreider has seven goals and four assists over 30 career playoff games.

Of course, New York would like to see Rick Nash finally get his offensive game on track in this series. The highly-paid winger has just five assists in this postseason after leading the club with 26 goals during the regular season.

The power play could still be an issue for New York heading into the conference finals, as the club is just 6-for-55 with the man advantage this postseason. There is some good news for the Blueshirts on special teams, as the club killed off 19-of-20 penalties in Round 2 after allowing the Flyers to score six times on 21 chances in the opening round.

New York head coach Alain Vigneault relies heavily on his top-four defensemen and it's easy to see why. Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Anton Stralman are all capable of playing two-way games and eating up minutes for Vigneault.

McDonagh is the clear No. 1 on New York's blue line. He's leading the team in ice time with an average of 24:54 per game, and after failing to reach the scoresheet in Round 1, he posted a goal and two assists in the seven games against Pittsburgh.

Girardi and Stralman are leading Rangers defensemen with five points apiece, with the former posting a goal and four assists and the latter recording five helpers. Staal and Kevin Klein each have a goal and two assists this postseason.

While the top-four guys all averaged over 19 minutes of ice time in the first round, the final pairing of Klein (13:14) and John Moore (15:06) were used far less. Raphael Diaz replaced Moore in the lineup for Games 3 and 4 against Pittsburgh, but Vigneault returned to Moore for the final three tilts.


Both teams are attempting to get back to the Cup Finals for the first time since the 1990s, with the Rangers aiming to get back to the final stage for the first time since winning it all in 1994.

These Original Six foes have played 14 playoff series and each club has won seven times, although Montreal earned the biggest victory when it beat the Rangers in the 1979 Cup Finals.

The clubs last met in the postseason in the opening round of the 1996 playoffs and the Rangers won that set in six games.

Judging by the three meetings between these clubs in 2013-14 and the overall recent history in this matchup, the East finals could be a low-scoring affair. Montreal won two of three regular-season meetings and the teams combined to score only four goals during the season series.

All told, Montreal has won five of the last six games in the regular season and has shut out the Rangers in four of the last five encounters. Price posted three of those shutouts, but Lundqvist only started one of the last five meetings for New York.

Lundqvist and Price will battle each other on the big stage again after manning the crease for Sweden and Canada, respectively, in the gold medal game at the Sochi Olympics. Price's Team Canada won that clash 3-0.

Lundqvist is 13-11-2 with a 2.86 GAA and .897 save percentage in his career against the Canadiens and hasn't won in Montreal since March 17, 2009. In fact, New York's No. 1 netminder hasn't even played a game at the Bell Centre since Jan. 15, 2012.

Price, meanwhile, is 8-5-1 with a 2.06 GAA and .934 save percentage in 15 regular-season matchups against New York.

Both clubs are coming off emotional series wins in which they managed to perform well in the underdog role. Neither team can really lay claim to underdog status in this one, however, and it figures to be a tightly contested affair.

The Habs and Rangers have many similarities and both clubs' strengths lie in their defensive depth and star goaltenders. Montreal beat the Bruins due in large part to its speed advantage but New York has the skaters to keep up with the Canadiens.

The fact that Lundqvist has struggled against Montreal is only a minor concern because regular-season splits usually can be thrown out the window this time of year. Expect New York to slip by the Canadiens and earn a much anticipated return to the Cup Finals.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Rangers in 7