The Montreal Canadiens will try to get back in the Eastern Conference Final series with the New York Rangers when the two collide in Game 3 at Madison Square Garden this evening.
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The Canadiens, who are without the services of No. 1 goaltender Carey Price, will have 24-year-old Dustin Tokarski between the pipes again tonight with Peter Budaj serving as the backup.
Tokarski performed admirably in his postseason debut on Monday, but it wasn't enough to prevent Montreal from falling behind two games to none. Henrik Lundqvist outdueled the Canadiens netminder, making 40 saves to anchor New York to its fifth consecutive victory.
Tokarski, who had played in three games earlier in the season, allowed all three goals on 30 shots in his first taste of NHL playoff action.
"We looked at his record. Tokarski is a winner and we know that from his past record. I thought he played very well tonight," said Montreal head coach Michel Therrien. "I liked our team effort, which was great tonight. We were engaged. But the reason we lost tonight was Lundqvist, he stole the game tonight. We had lots of chances to score but Lundqvist made key saves."
Tokarski became the first goaltender to make his playoff debut in the Conference Final or later since the NHL expanded to a four-round postseason format in 1975.
Price is out for the remainder of the Conference Final due to a lower-body injury suffered in Game 1.
Forward Thomas Vanek, who has no points, one shot and a minus-3 rating, took turns skating on the fourth line during practice Wednesday. Therrien told reporters not to read into it, as it all could change again ahead of Game 3.
Max Pacioretty scored for Montreal at 6:14 of the first period, but McDonagh answered with his tally just 17 seconds later. The Canadiens put a ton of pressure on New York in the opening 20 minutes, but Lundqvist stopped 13-of-14 shots in the period and Nash would score late in the stanza to give the Rangers the lead for good.
"He's the only reason we were still in the game because they had tremendous push," said New York head coach Alain Vigneault about Lundqvist.
Montreal was 0-for-4 on the man advantage and has failed to score over seven chances in the first two games. The Rangers went 1-for-3 on the power play and are 4-for-10 in the series.
"We had a number of opportunities to put ourselves in a good position, but they were optimistic and capitalized on their opportunities," said Habs defenseman P.K. Subban. "The difference is, we didn't. We're getting pucks to the net, but not getting the bounces right now. We have to stick with it, because sooner or later the pucks will go in for us."
New York played without forward Derick Brassard, who suffered an injury early in Game 1 and was replaced in the lineup by Daniel Carcillo on Monday. He skated Wednesday and Vigneault said he's is day-to-day.
"It was good to get back out there with my teammates," Brassard said Wednesday. "I haven't talked to the medical staff, we'll see what's going to happen."
Vigneault also said winger Benoit Pouliot "is good" for tonight after taking a maintenance day on Wednesday.
New York is 10-2 all-time when winning the first two games of a seven-game playoff series, including a 4-1 mark when claiming the first two tests on the road.
New York is 5-0 since falling behind 3-1 in its semifinal set against Pittsburgh. Monday's win improved the Rangers to 6-3 on the road in these playoffs, marking the first time the Blueshirts have won six away games in one postseason since they last won the Stanley Cup in 1994.
The Rangers, however, are just 4-3 on home ice in the playoffs. The Habs are 4-2 as the guest.
Tonight's tilt is the first of two straight at the Garden, as the clubs are set to meet Sunday in Manhattan for Game 4.
Ryan McDonagh posted a goal and an assist in Monday's win, while Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash also scored for the Rangers. Derek Stepan added two assists in the victory.
McDonagh has six points (2G, 4A) in the first two games of this series. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, McDonagh is the first Rangers defenseman to record six points in a two-game span in the postseason since Brian Leetch in 1995. Leetch registered three points in consecutive games in New York's opening round series against the Quebec Nordiques in 1995.
"Not everyone plays consistently at the level you want, and I can say the same thing about me," said McDonagh. "But other guys stepped up and it's a good thing to win both games here. You focus on one game at a time, but we've really been ready to push ourselves to consistently to put us in this manner and give ourselves a chance in every game."
This is the first postseason encounter between these Original Six rivals since the opening round of the 1996 playoffs when New York won in six games. The clubs have split 14 previous playoff series, but the Rangers have now won six straight postseason games against Montreal, becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to take six playoff tilts in a row versus the storied Canadiens franchise.
Both teams are attempting to get back to the Cup Final for the first time since the 1990s. Montreal was the last team based in Canada to win it all in 1993, but has yet to return to the Cup Final, and the Rangers are aiming to get back to the final stage for the first time since 1994.