Playing on the road, against a backup goaltender, with a chance to grab a commanding 2-0 series lead, the Rangers had quite the opportunity Monday night to jump into the driver's seat of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Luckily, it was Henrik Lundqvist shouting out directions.
The Rangers managed to weather an inspired start from the Canadiens, and got goals from their top players to beat Montreal 3-1 Monday night at the Bell Centre and grab a 2-0 series lead.
The start of the game was all Montreal, as the Canadiens didn't allow the Rangers to test rookie netminder Dustin Tokarski. The Canadiens jumped out to a 5-0 shot lead in the early going. Right as the Rangers finally fired their first shot on net, continued pressure from the Canadiens gave Montreal a 1-0 lead. Mats Zuccarello was unable to clear a puck in his skates, before a Lundqvist poke check deflected off Max Pacioretty and into the back of the net.
If a stroke of puck luck put Montreal ahead, it took all of 17 seconds for a bounce to go the Rangers' way and tie the score. Ryan McDonagh rifled a puck from the point that deflected off Josh Gorges, off the post, and past Tokarski for a 1-1 tie. The goal was McDonagh's second in two games in the series.
Montreal continued to carry the play in the first period, but Lundqvist was equal to the task, making 13 saves in the game's first 20 minutes. A few of those saves were off quality chances, as he stopped a Pacioretty one-timer on a cross-ice feed, a P.K. Subban blast from the slot, and a few whacks in front by Rene Bourque.
While New York would have been lucky to escape the first period tied, the top line gave the Blueshirts their first lead of the night with just over a minute to play in the opening frame. The Rangers hit the blue line on a 3-on-2, and Chris Kreider wired a feed over to Rick Nash, who beat Tokarski to push it to 2-1 Rangers. It was Nash's second goal in as many games as well.
The second period was played more evenly, as the Rangers were able to establish a forecheck, and held an 11-8 shot advantage. Lundqvist was strong again, swallowing up pucks, and dealing with Montreal traffic near the crease.
New York found the only goal of the period on their rejuvenated power play. With Alex Galchenyuk in the box for tripping Carl Hagelin, the Rangers worked the puck around the zone. A tic-tac-toe sequence saw the puck go from McDonagh, to Derek Stepan, onto the stick of Martin St. Louis, who labeled a shot just under the crossbar to make it a 3-1 game.
The Rangers played a clinical third period, taking short shifts, and getting the puck deep, forcing Montreal to go the full 200 feet. When it came to crunch time, it was Lundqvist again standing tall, denying a number of chances on a 6-on-4 late in the game for the Canadiens.
While the Rangers were able to survive the first two rounds without major production from its top players, the Eastern Conference Finals has been a complete role reversal. Nash and McDonagh have each scored twice in the first two games of the series. Along with Kreider, the trio combined for 12 points in the opening two games at the Bell Centre.
Game 3 will be Thursday night in New York, with the Rangers looking to take a 3-0 lead.