NEW YORK – As the media was allowed into the Rangers dressing room minutes after their 1-0 loss to Montreal on Thursday night, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist sat solemnly at his locker, a look of bewilderment and frustration etched all over his face.
He had matched Montreal netminder Carey Price save-for-save through nearly 56 minutes, but allowed the only one that mattered. Max Pacioretty’s soft wrister snuck between Lundqvist’s arm and body with 4:17 remaining in the third period for the game’s only goal.
It was one Lundqvist should have had – and one he couldn’t believe he had allowed.
“I didn’t expect him to shoot,” Lundqvist said after making 25 saves on 26 shots. “I got caught too deep, and when I was about to push to my left, I got stuck in the post. I mean, there’s no excuse; I have to expect him to shoot even though it’s a weird angle or whatever. I have to stop it. This is on me, and it’s a tough feeling.”
“[Pacioretty] made a smart play and shot right through my legs,” said captain Ryan McDonagh. “It’s tough for any goalie to pick up a shot like that with a quick release and a little bit of a screen by myself. It’s a tough one to lose on.”
The goal snapped Lundqvist’s personal 199:45 scoreless streak against the Canadiens at Madison Square Garden. He hadn’t allowed a goal against them at the Garden since the third period of Game 4 during last season’s conference finals.
“Every game is different, both teams weren’t giving themselves a lot of room on the ice,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “When they did get some room, there were some big saves on both sides. An inch there, an inch here, we might have been able to beat [Price]. They got the goal that made the difference late in the game.”
It was a sloppy performance by the Rangers, especially early as they struggled gaining the zone against a stringent Montreal defense. They found their game as it went on, but Price was up to the challenge, making 24 saves – several of them spectacular — for his third shutout of the season.
“They’re a team that plays well, and they defend well,” Vigneault said of the difficulty his team had gaining the offensive zone. “They were up for this game, you could tell right off the bat that there was a lot of emotion on the ice. That usually occurs when teams compete against one another in the playoffs. It was a hard game.”
There was plenty of nastiness on the ice, too – especially in the first period. Chris Kreider, who knocked Price out of the conference finals last year, was challenged early on by P.K. Subban, who took an embellishment penalty on Kreider’s post-whistle extracurricular activity.
While both of them sat in the penalty box they continually jawed at each other, and upon exiting the box Kreider dropped his gloves against an unwilling Subban, sending both of them right back to the sin bin. Later in the period, Tanner Glass and Brandon Prust fought, the Rangers’ first fight since Jan. 16, and their 13th of the season.
“These are two teams, when you have a conference final against a team players are going to remember that,” McDonagh said. “That might have played into it for a bit. For the most part I like that we stayed disciplined after the first.”
But in the immediate aftermath of a disappointing loss, the only thing Lundqvist remembered was a shot that snuck through, a frustrating postscript to a second straight loss.
The Canadiens are 6-0-2 when tied after 40 minutes, while the Rangers fell to 2-5-3 when tied after two periods.
This was the first regular-season game between the Rangers and Canadiens at MSG that finished 1-0 since Mar. 25, 1979. The Rangers beat the Canadiens 1-0 in Game 6 of last year’s conference finals to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Final.
INSIDE THE DRESSING ROOM