MONTREAL – It’s Brad Richards’ turn to be the old hand, tutoring his young New York Rangers teammates on what it’s like to win a Stanley Cup.
It wasn’t like that in 2004, when Richards and teammate Martin St. Louis won the Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“This whole playoffs it’s been fun to do that,” the 34-year-old Richards said Tuesday. “When I was in Tampa, Marty also, we didn’t really have a clue what we were doing.
“We were first time through it, leaning on other people, older people, asking them all the questions. It’s fun to try to gather the group and talk about things. This group has come together so much and they ask a lot of questions. They make fun of us a lot for doing that, too, but it’s fun to try to help out that way.”
The Rangers are two wins away from a trip to the Stanley Cup final after taking the opening two games of the NHL Eastern Conference final from the Canadiens in Montreal.
They swamped the flat-footed Canadiens 7-2 in the series opener on Monday afternoon, but then needed a 40-save effort from goalie Henrik Lundqvist to pull out a 3-1 win in a major Montreal push-back on Monday night.
Game 3 is set for Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
In 2004, the Canadiens came back to beat Boston in the opening round but then were swept by the Lightning. This year, Montreal is again coming off a Game 7 win over the Bruins and is in danger of losing in four straight to the Rangers.
That has Richards, a P.E.I. native who played junior hockey in Quebec with the 2000 Memorial Cup champion Rimouski Oceanic, and Montreal native St. Louis at 6-0 in career playoff games against the Canadiens.
Their message to teammates who haven’t won a Cup is to not let the opportunity slip away.
“We’ve been to the conference final twice in three years, that’s very rare,” said Richards. “Look at teams around the league that you think are going to have chances to win Cups every year and it just doesn’t happen.
“It’s very tough. I haven’t been back to a final since ’04. I just try to hammer that stuff home.”
And despite taking the first two games on enemy ice, the conference final is far from over even if Montreal’s star goalie Carey Price is out with a suspected right knee injury for the rest of the series.
The Canadiens had the puck most of the first period on Monday but came out of it down 2-1 due to an unlucky bounce on a shot from the red-hot Ryan McDonagh and blast on the rush from Rick Nash that was perhaps third-string goalie Dustin Tokarski’s only big mistake.
Montreal will no doubt come out hard again in Game 3.
“I’m sure they have more,” said Richards. “And you don’t always roll the dice that your goalie’s going to stop all those shots.
“They could come with less and score two goals. You just never know. But you’ve got to give yourself an opportunity and that’s by holding onto pucks and getting it down the other end. We did that in Game 1, but in Game 2… you’re playing with fire is what I’m trying to say.”
Montreal coach Michel Therrien said his team is confident it can still win the series if it gives up fewer odd-man rushes and keeps up the fast-paced game it brought on Monday night.
“I believe that we will turn it around,” said Therrien. “Yes, the first game was tough for us emotionally and physically.
“We didn’t get much time between Game 7 (against Boston) and Game 1 (against the Rangers), and it was an afternoon game. It shows in the result. But I thought we regrouped really well. We were a team that played with a lot of energy, that was pushing the pace, and we played a solid game.”
Therrien spoke to the media on a conference call while his players took what he said was a much-needed day off. They will practice on Tuesday before flying to New York.
“The only thing that we’re going to focus on is to make sure we’ve got another solid game in New York,” he said. “You get one win and after that, the momentum can change really quickly in the playoffs.”
There is also the chance of fatigue setting in on the Rangers, whose first two rounds went seven games each.
Therrien touched off a debate by giving Tokarski his first NHL playoff start over regular backup Peter Budaj, who let in three goals on eight shots after subbing for Price in the third period of the series opener.
It seemed like a hunch. The 24-year-old Tokarski, who has played only 10 NHL regular season games over five years with Tampa Bay and Montreal, has a history of winning championships at the junior and AHL levels, while Budaj has a career 0-2-0 NHL playoff record.
It appeared Therrien will stick with Tokarski, at least for Game 3. He said Tokarski played well and wasn’t the reason they lost.
He also liked what he saw of Alex Galchenyuk, who missed the final two games of the regular season and the first 12 playoff games with a knee problem.
The gifted forward taken third overall in the 2012 draft skated on left wing on the second line with Tomas Plekanec and Thomas Vanek.
“For a guy that hadn’t played for six weeks, I thought he did well,” said Therrien. “Especially because this is not regular season pace, this is a playoff pace.
“I thought Alex was capable, made some plays. The more the series goes on, the more we’re going to see Alex get better and better.”
It should be a happy homecoming for Rangers sniper Nash, who was without a goal in the playoffs and endured some booing in New York before the team got to Montreal. Then he scored in each of the first two games.
“I’ve tried to stay positive through this whole thing,” said Nash. “The team’s winning, and that’s all I care about.
“But I want to do what I can to help the team win, and it’s frustrating when you can’t help offensively and you’re supposed to.”
After Game 2, coach Alain Vigneault said he had an inkling that Montreal would start Tokarski, who he referred to as “that gentleman.”
Asked if he had another inkling for Game 3, Vigneault said: “I do, but I’m not willing to share it with you.”