With goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in brilliant form, the New York Rangers blew past the Canadiens, 7-2, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals at Bell Centre in Montreal on Saturday.
Goals 51 seconds apart late in the second period by winger Chris Kreider and center Brad Richards helped turn a 2-1 Rangers lead into a convincing victory in a building that went from very loud to quite quiet over the course of three hours.
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, center Derek Stepan and wingers Martin St. Louis, Mats Zuccarrello and Rick Nash had the other Rangers goals. McDonagh added three assists for a four-point game, while Zuccarello also had a couple of helpers.
Winger Rene Bourque and center Lars Eller scored the Montreal goals.
Despite facing only 22 shots, Rangers goalie Lundqvist was outstanding with 20 saves, particularly in the second period with the game still on the line.
Canadiens goalie Carey Price was lifted after two periods, during which he gave up four goals on 20 shots. He was replaced by goalie Peter Budaj, who made five saves.
St. Louis opened the scoring on New York’s fifth shot after being set up by a backhand pass from center Dominic Moore at 4:35 of the first period.
Zuccarello struck 1:52 later when he relayed home a nice feed from McDonagh after Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban chased Moore behind the net.
Bourque made it close with a chip shot over Lundqvist’s right shoulder 12:38 into the second, a goal that whipped the Bell Centre faithful into a frenzy and gave the Canadiens some life.
But at every turn, Lundqvist was there to stop them. He robbed winger Max Pacioretty twice in the middle frame, and also made a big blocker save against Subban.
Kreider scored after being sent in on a breakaway by Nash with 61 seconds left in the second. And then, with 11.6 seconds left, Zuccarello set up Richards’ goal with a pass from behind the net to make it 4-1.
The Montreal meltdown continued in the third as McDonagh, Stepan and Nash each scored on the power play.
The Rangers lost center Derick Brassard in the first period when he sustained an upper-body injury after being hit by Canadiens defenseman Mike Weaver.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series will be played on Monday in Montreal.