MONTREAL â€” Any troubles Henrik Lundqvist has had with the Montreal Canadiens were nowhere to be found in the opening game of the NHL playoffs.
The veteran goaltender survived a shaky first period to post a 31-save shutout as the New York Rangers topped Montreal 2-0 on Wednesday night.
It will be up to the Canadiens to come up with an answer in Game 2 on Friday night at Bell Centre, or risk heading to New York down two games in the best-of-seven series.
“We didn’t put out there that Hank (Lundqvist) is going to have a hard time here,” said New York coach Alain Vigneault. “We’ve always had a lot of confidence in his game and what he did tonight was what we expected.”
Montreal went 3-0-0 against Lundqvist and the Rangers in the regular season, continuing the trend of the last two seasons in which Carey Price has shone against the Blueshirts while Lundqvist laboured. But the same may not apply in the post-season.
When New York knocked off the Canadiens in six games in 2014, a series in which Price was injured in the opening game, Lundqvist was pulled for Game 5 but bounced back with a Game 6 shutout.
His clean sheet in the opener put him in the career lead among active NHL goalies with 10.
“We know Hank’s going to bring it,” said Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh. “His focus and determination really fed to the rest of the team.”
Montreal pulled Price late in the third, but Michael Grabner settled the issue with an empty-net goal with 1:10 left to play.
Shots were 31-31 in a fast-paced game with plenty of chances at both ends. Lundqvist looked to be fighting the puck as Montreal had a 16-5 first-period shot advantage but managed to keep it out if his net.
Fired up by 1960s pop star Ginette Reno’s national anthem, the Canadiens were all over New York, but it was the Rangers who struck first 9:50 into the game on only their third shot. Tomas Plekanec won a draw in the Montreal zone, but fourth line winger Tanner Glass pounced on it and lifted a backhand from the slot over Price’s shoulder.
“Certainly a goal helped to settle us down and get back to the focus and making the plays we needed to make,” said McDonagh. “A great play by (Glass). It’s just working hard. It’s great to see him get rewarded there.”
Montreal coach Claude Julien wants to make “little adjustments” for Game 2.
“We can definitely get better in the board battles,” said Julien. “Little details here and there made the difference.
“We had some chances in the first and came out of it down 1-0 when you should have been up. That’s what happens in the playoffs. What you need to do is keep your composure. You face adversity along the way, you regroup and go back to work.”
New York turned the tables in the first half of the second frame, but Price held Montreal in the game. The Rangers had a two-man advantage late in the period but couldn’t get a second goal.
But neither could the Canadiens, who had some clean chances but were up against a New York defence that did a good job of limiting rebounds.
“It was more about finish,” said Julien. “We had some good looks.
“There were loose pucks there. It’s about winning those little battles for loose pucks and making sure you pounce on them and finish it off.”
The Rangers had a league-high 27 road wins in the regular season.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press