MONTREAL — Martin St. Louis scored in the second period and Henrik Lundqvist made 40 saves as the New York Rangers made it two in a row at the Bell Centre with a 3-1 victory over the Carey Price-less Montreal Canadiens on Monday night.
The Rangers lead the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final 2-0 heading back to New York for Game 3 on Thursday and Game 4 on Sunday.
St. Louis scored a day after he and his teammates attended the funeral of his mother, who died suddenly just before Mother’s Day. The Rangers have rallied around the grieving veteran and have won five in a row since her death.
New York’s Rick Nash also scored while Ryan McDonagh added a goal and an assist to give the defenceman six points in the opening two games of the series.
Max Pacioretty scored for Montreal, which outshot New York 41-30.
“It’s been an emotional weekend,” said St. Louis. “I’ll definitely never forget this weekend for many reasons, but I think the grieving process will still take a while.
“But that stuff is behind me. Tonight, we wanted to make sure we’d have the emotion we’d need to win this game because we knew they would come out hard, especially rallying, losing their best player, so I though we answered.”
The Canadiens had a shaky Dustin Tokarski playing his first career NHL playoff game in goal in place of Price, the Olympic gold medallist who hurt his right knee in the series opener when he was crashed into by Chris Kreider.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Tokarski. “There was a lot of adrenaline. You grow up as a kid wanting to play in the playoffs, and I got the opportunity and just came up a bit short.”
Coach Michel Therrien said he opted for Tokarski over regular back-up Peter Budaj because of the youngster’s record of winning championships at the junior and AHL levels.
“He’s a winner,” said Therrien. “I thought he played well. We talked to Peter and he reacted as a pro. He’s a good teammate.”
At the other end, Therrien said Lundqvist was the difference.
“I though we played well, but the only reason we lost was Lundqvist. He stole that game,” said Therrien.
The Canadiens rebounded from a listless 7-2 thumping in the opener with one of their better games of the playoffs, but some bounces went New York’s way and Lundqvist proved he has exorcised his Bell Centre demons with a nearly flawless game.
The high-paced action from the start between two of the league’s best skating teams had the 21,273 in the seats roaring for most of the game.
Montreal’s worst fears were realized in the first period, which it dominated while still falling behind 2-1.
New York coach Alain Vigneault also gave credit to Lundqvist.
“He’s the only reason we were still in the game,” he said. “They had total control of the pressure.
“A lucky bounce changed the dynamics of the game.”
A long period of sustained pressure produced the first goal as Lundqvist’s clearing attempt went off Pacioretty’s skate and into the net at 6:14.
But only 17 seconds later, the hockey gods gave it back to New York as McDonagh swiped a puck toward the net from the point and saw it go in off Josh Gorges’ leg and a goalpost.
The crowd was booing Kreider when he sent a pass across to the right side and Nash’s one-timer went in off the midsection of Tokarski, who was late getting across. It was the second goal in as many games and second of the playoffs for Nash.
Tokarski had no chance as St. Louis wired a shot from the slot on a power play inside the post at 8:03 of the middle frame.
The Rangers played a thorough defensive game in the third to prevent a comeback.
“The Canadiens were coming wave after wave in the first period,” said St. Louis. “If it wasn’t for Lundqvist, there might have been a different result after the first.
“He gave us time to find our legs. The goal by Mac was a big one. It calmed everyone down and allowed us to regroup.”