The Montreal Canadiens (10-4-1) skate into the Big Apple on the heels of a four game winning streak to faceoff against the New York Rangers (8-5-1), who have rebounded after a slow start to win seven of their last 10 games. The Habs are playing on consecutive nights and need to find their game legs against a Rangers team that has had a day of rest and relaxation–whatever that means in this helter skelter, shortened season. The Rangers will be without injured Rick Nash, a late scratch, who will be replaced by Chris Kreider.
After two excellent games by Canadiens backup goaltender Peter Budaj, where he allowed just one goal on 37 shots, first string netminder Carey Price will get the call tonight for the visitors. However, the Montreal defense will have to work overtime to hold the blueshirts to less than 20 shots as they did in both games when Budaj was in goal. The Rangers had 20 shots in the first period alone (40 for the game) in their 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Sunday.
Both teams are struggling mightily on the power play with the Rangers being last in the league (11.3 percent) and the Habs having converted just one of their last 21 attempts with the extra skater. The 6-4, 220 lb forward Brandon Mashinter will make his New York debut in the game, which will also feature the return of Brandon Prust to MSG. Prust signed as a free agent with the Habs during the offseason after spending a little over two seasons with the Rangers. Mashinter has been brought up to replace Darroll Powe, who suffered a concussion in Sunday’s game against the Caps.
With the advent of league expansion, the original six rivalry between the two teams has been diluted over the past couple of decades. With both teams having limited success during that time period, the importance of their regular season games have diminished. In recent years, it has been unlikely to catch a game between these two teams when both have been playing extremely well.
In addition, one would have to go back 34 years to when Phil Esposito and Guy Lafleur were lacing up the skates for a vitally important postseason matchup between theses two long standing members of the NHL. The Canadiens defeated the Rangers in five games during the 1978-79 finals for their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup title. In the time since, the two teams have combined for only three cup championships and none in the past 20 years.
The game against the Rangers marks the most difficult challenge the Canadiens have faced on the road this season. Montreal has played ten of their first fourteen games at the Bell Centre this season and have taken advantage of a favorable early schedule. If the Habs are to be considered a serious contender and compete with the big boys, they will have to play well and with consistency on the road against upper echelon teams such as the Rangers.
Tonight, the rejuvenated Canadiens find out if they have what it takes to make it under the big bright lights of Broadway. If they can make it there, they can make it anywhere–at least according to the song.