MONTREAL – The New York Rangers are a much different team than they were the first two times they played the Montreal Canadiens this season.
The Rangers, who had previously dropped 6-2 and 6-3 decisions to the Canadiens, wasted three one-goal leads but still won 4-3 in a shootout in a key NHL Eastern Conference playoff race match-up on Tuesday night.
With the win, New York took sole possession of sixth place in the conference, one point ahead of Montreal.
“It’s a tough building to play in and we knew they’d come out strong with some of the things that have gone on here,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “We found a way to win.”
In the shootout, Markus Naslund, Nik Antropov and Chris Drury all scored for New York (37-26-8), while Alex Kovalev and Andrei Markov tallied but Andrei Kostitsyn was stopped for Montreal (36-25-9).
In regulation time, Kovalev, Markov and Maxim Lapierre scored for the Canadiens, now 1-1-2 since Bob Gainey replaced Guy Carbonneau behind the bench.
Antropov, Nikolai Zherdev and Ryan Callahan scored for the Rangers, who are 6-3-1 since Tortorella replaced Tom Renney as head coach. With the win, Tortorella passed Peter Laviolette as the all-time leader in wins by a U.S.-born coach with 245.
New York looked to have the game won as they outshot Montreal 16-5 in the third period and took the lead when Callahan slid in Brandon Dubinsky’s rebound at 10:58.
But after a turnover at the Canadiens blue-line, Markov skated down the left side and beat Henrik Lundqvist inside the near post from a tight angle to tie the game at 15:07 and force overtime.
“That was a bad goal on my side,” said Lundqvist. “But overall, it was a really good game and it was good to get two points in here.”
It was probably the best game Montreal has played since the coaching change, although Gainey was concerned his team gave up more than 40 shots for a second straight game.
“It was a good game for us,” he said “We didn’t give up, but it was hard because we never had a lead.
“We were always trailing. I thought we should have attacked and scored more goals, especially at home in a very important game. But we gave ourselves a chance to win after three periods.”
The crowd booed Rangers bad boy Sean Avery each time he was on the ice, but particularly in the first frame when he fell on Carey Price in the crease. Later, he dropped to the ice from an elbow by Glen Metropolit, but didn’t get the call.
His coup de grace was luring Mike Komisarek into a slashing penalty in the second period, and the Montreal defenceman then smashed a TV camera in the penalty box in frustration. But Avery’s run of three straight games with at least one goal ended.
The teams played through a scoreless first period in which both Price and Lundqvist were sharp.
The Rangers struck first with the teams each short one man as Antropov banged in Drury’s rebound at 7:13 of the second period on a rush. It was his third straight game with a goal, and the former Toronto Maple Leaf has four goals in seven games since being traded to New York.
Montreal tied it on a power play at 19:26, as Kovalev, back after missing two games with a flu, blasted a diagonal pass from Markov into an open side. Markov picked up his career-high 44th assist on the play.
Zherdev burst down the right wing and saw his shot go off Tomas Plekanec’s stick and sail over Price’s shoulder for his 20th of the season 5:32 into the third period.
Lapierre struck only 40 seconds later on a counterattack as he put a move on defenceman Dan Girardi and beat Lundqvist high to the glove side.
Notes – Alex Kovalev returned from Montreal after missing two games with a flu, only to have Alex Tanguay come down with the same illness. Guillaume Latendresse returned after missing 19 games with a shoulder injury. Ryan O’Byrne and Mathieu Dandenault were scratched. . . Aaron Voros did not dress for New York. . . Among the crowd was IBF super-middleweight champion Lucian Bute.