With the NHL's Eastern Conference final set to begin Saturday with Game 1 of the Canadiens-Rangers series (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 12:30 p.m. ET, here's a breakdown of the Original Six matchup along with a prediction.
Montreal vs. New York Rangers
Canadiens: 46-28-8, 100 points, 3rd in Atlantic Division, defeated Tampa Bay 4-0 in 1st round, Boston 4-3 in 2nd round.
Rangers: 45-31-6, 96 points, 2nd in Metropolitan Division, defeated Philadelphia 4-3 in 1st round, Pittsburgh 4-3 in 2nd round.
1. This series matches up the goalies from the Olympic gold-medal game in Sochi three months ago. Montreal's Carey Price got the better of the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist in Canada's 3-0 win, but both netminders enter this series on a roll. Lundqvist stopped 102 of 105 shots for a .971 save percentage in the final three games of New York's second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Price is now 5-0 in elimination games this season, with back-to-back wins over the Boston Bruins to claim that second-round series, and wins over Latvia, the United States and Sweden in the medal round to win gold in Sochi. In those five outings, Price allowed only two goals for a .984 save percentage. Lundqvist, who has a career save percentage of .920, has subpar career numbers against Montreal. He's 13-12-2 overall with a .897 save percentage, including a 4-5-2 record and .876 save percentage at the Bell Centre. Lundqvist hasn't played a game in Montreal since Jan. 15, 2012, a 4-1 loss. In fact, backup Cam Talbot played all three of New York's games against the Canadiens this season.
2. Canadiens forwards Brandon Prust and Dale Weise are former Rangers. New York's Dominic Moore, Benoit Pouliot and Raphael Diaz used to hang their helmets in Montreal. There also is dependable defenceman Ryan McDonagh, a former first-round Canadiens draft pick who was sent to the Rangers in the Scott Gomez trade in 2011. Another one the Habs organization would like to have back was the decision not to sign undrafted forward Martin St. Louis, who grew up in nearby Laval. St. Louis always has played well against his hometown Canadiens. In his only playoff meeting against Montreal, St. Louis registered six assists in his Tampa Bay Lightning's four-game sweep in 2004. In 49 career regular-season games against Montreal he has 18 goals and 40 points, including 12 goals and 21 points in 25 games at the Bell Centre. St. Louis's mother, France, unexpectedly passed away at age 63 last week. It obviously was a difficult time for St. Louis, his family and the Rangers, but the emotions helped spark the Blueshirts to three wins in a row to upset the Penguins. Whether or not the emotions carry over into this series remains to be seen.
3. Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien, 50, and his 53-year-old Rangers counterpart Alain Vigneault go way back. They played against each other in the QMJHL and briefly in the AHL. They coached against each other in junior, the AHL and NHL. In 1996, Therrien's Granby Predateurs beat Vigneault's Beauport Harfangs in a spirited seven-game QMJHL final. Of course, Vigneault's first NHL head coaching job was at the helm of Canadiens, and he was replaced by Therrien 20 games into the 2000-01 season. This is the first time they will face each other in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Season series: Canadiens 2-1-0.
Oct. 28: Canadiens won 2-0 at New York.
Nov. 16: Rangers won 1-0 at Montreal.
April 24: Canadiens won 1-0 (OT) at Montreal.
Prediction: Rangers in 7.
Wharnsby's overall playoff record: 3-2.
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