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NHL's Eastern Conference finals 5 things to watch when Canadiens match up with Rangers

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers are two of the NHL's storied franchises.

For two decades, their stories have not included a Stanley Cup.

That might change this year for one of the Original Six franchises.

Montreal will meet New York in the Eastern Conference finals—after splitting their previous 14 matchups in the playoffs—and the winner will give have a chance to end a championship drought.

Here are five things to watch when Montreal hosts the Rangers on Saturday in Game 1:

DROUGHT DETAILS: The Canadiens have more Stanley Cup banners than any other team, but they're collecting dust in the rafters. Montreal defenceman P.K. Subban was 4 in 1993, the last time Montreal won an NHL championship. Since then, the Canadiens have played in the conference finals only once and lasted just five games in 2010 against Philadelphia. The Rangers have reached the league's final four for the third time since hoisting the Cup in 1994. Montreal and New York are facing each other in the conference finals for the first time in 28 years, a series the Canadiens won in five games before going on to win the Stanley Cup.

BETWEEN THE PIPES: Like pitching in baseball or quarterback play in football, goaltending is usually the pivotal position in hockey. Both teams have great players in net, and they'll be at opposite ends of a rink in pressure-packed situations for a second time this year. Montreal's Carey Price closed the Sochi Olympics with two straight shutouts to help Canada win gold, including the Olympic final against Rangers and Swedish star goalie Henrik Lundqvist. If the series extends to a Game 7, both netminders have quite a track record of success. Lundqvist is the first goalie to win five Game 7s in a row and he has given up less than one goal on average in those games. Price is 2-1 with a shutout in Game 7s, and he is 5-0 in elimination games—allowing a total of two goals—this year for Canada and the Canadiens.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Montreal has scored 10 goals with an extra skater to trail only the Anaheim Ducks in production on power plays in the post-season. The Rangers have scored on just 11 per cent of their power plays to rank among the worst this post-season. Both teams have generally stayed out of the penalty box with Montreal ranking No. 1 and New York tied for No. 2 in fewest penalty minutes per game. In penalty-kill percentage, the Rangers rank in the middle of the pack among teams this post-season while the Canadiens have been slightly worse.

PAYING DIVIDENDS: The Rangers have always made major moves to add talent. For a change, they have been paying off this post-season. Brad Richards, who was signed to a $60 million, nine-year deal in 2011, has a team-high nine points in the playoffs. Benoit Pouliot, signed a one-year contract last summer, and Martin St. Louis, acquired in a bold trade just before the deadline this year, both have eight points this post-season.

SUBBAN SHINES: Subban has become a breakout star, leading Montreal with 12 post-season points. The bright lights of the conference finals and big stage in New York probably will not affect the fun-loving player. The reigning Norris Trophy winner makes it tough for opponents at the other end because of his size (6 feet, 217 pounds) and ability to skate with most forwards.


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