The marquee matchup of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is an Original Six series between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens. It’s the first time the Habs and Blueshirts have met in the postseason since New York beat Montreal in six games in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals. Montreal is the series betting favourite this time on Sports Interaction NHL odds.
New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens, Game 1
Moneylines: TBD Total: TBD Date: Wednesday, April 12, 7 p.m. ET Location: Bell Centre, Montreal
New York Rangers
The Rangers finished fourth in the ultra-tough Metropolitan Division with 102 points. That total would have been good for second in Montreal’s Atlantic Division. New York struggled to the finish line in going 8-9-4 in its final 21 games to finish 48-28-6 and earn the Eastern Conference’s top wild-card spot.
This team is coached by Alain Vigneault, who coached Montreal from 1997-2001 and Vancouver from 2006-2013. The Rangers were fourth in the NHL in scoring at 3.1 goals per game. They had four guys with at least 50 points, led by right winger Mats Zuccarello’s 59. Chris Kreider led in goals with 28. Former Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist had a moderately disappointing season to his usual standards with a 31-20-4 record, 2.74 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. He also had some injury concerns. Backup Antti Raanta (16-8-2, 2.26 GAA, .922 SV) was statistically better, but there’s no question it will be King Henrik in net for this series.
Lundqvist doesn’t have a great regular-season history at the Bell Centre, where he’s 4-9-2 with a 3.87 goals-against average and .877 save percentage. Lundqvist is 14-17-3 in the regular season overall against the Canadiens, one of three NHL teams he has a losing record against. Lundqvist was 2-1 at the Bell Centre with a 2.82 GAA and .915 save percentage in that 2014 playoff series.
New York lost all three meetings with Montreal in the regular season, scoring seven total goals. Derek Stepan led the Rangers with three points (one goal, two assists) in those games. Lundqvist was 0-2-1 with a 4.04 GAA and .871 save percentage.
To win the Eastern Conference, New York is +700.
The Habs won the Atlantic Division with 103 points. Of course, they made an in-season coaching change in firing Michel Therrien and replacing him with Claude Julien in mid-February. Julien had recently been fired by the Bruins. Montreal was 16-7-1 under him.
Montreal isn’t as good offensively as the Rangers in averaging 2.7 goals per game. The Canadiens had only two players reach 50 points this season: Max Pacioretty (35 goals, 32 assists) and Alexander Radulov (18 goals, 36 assists). Pacioretty led Montreal with five points against New York (one goal, four assists).
The Canadiens should have the defensive edge in allowing 2.4 goals per game (fourth). They allowed a half-goal fewer per game under Julien than under Therrien. Montreal was also the least-penalized team in the NHL under Julien. The Canadiens have one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL in Shea Weber and Andrei Markov. Among all skaters who played at least 750 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, no one was on the ice for fewer goals against per 60 minutes of ice time than Weber was (1.27 per 60). Weber did miss the final four regular-season games with a lower-body injury but was at practice on Monday.
Carey Price had another great season with a 37-20-5 record, 2.23 GAA and .923 save percentage. This series will no doubt be personal for Price because in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals, Kreider crashed into Price in Game 1 and took him out of the series. Dustin Tokarski took over. Price played all three of this season’s games vs. New York and was 3-0 with a 2.27 GAA and .922 save percentage.
NHL teams usually lose when they are trailing entering the third period, but Montreal led the league with 11 victories when trailing entering the third. On the flip side, the Rangers were tied for second in the NHL in third-period goals scored with 101. Montreal is also +700 to win the East.
Rangers vs. Canadiens Predictions
Should be a terrific series, with the winner facing either Ottawa or Boston. Two of the three matchups between Montreal and New York in the regular season were one-goal games. These should all be tight. Go Canadiens in six games for this series – as long as Weber is OK to play.