MONTREAL — The Rangers have engaged in many playoff showdowns against Montreal, earning more series victories against the Canadiens than any opponent in franchise history. But the two longtime rivals have never gone the distance to seven games.
The Rangers will need one of their best home performances of the season to make sure that does not happen after Mika Zibanejad scored at 14 minutes 22 seconds of overtime for a 3-2 victory on Thursday, giving the Rangers a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series.
The Rangers dominated the overtime period against the tired-looking Canadiens at Bell Centre, outshooting their hosts, 10-3, and putting together several solid chances. The winning play came when Chris Kreider slid the puck across the goal to Zibanejad, who whipped it past goaltender Carey Price and sent the crowd into stunned silence.
“I didn’t expect the puck to come to me like that, and I don’t think the defense noticed it either,” Zibanejad said. “I was able to get a stick on it — it was just awesome.”
For Zibanejad, acquired last summer from Ottawa in exchange for Derick Brassard, the goal was a pinnacle moment in his first season as a Ranger.
“And it was a little revenge from the last overtime here,” he said, referring to Montreal’s win in Game 2.
Game 6 is Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers will have a chance to eliminate the Canadiens in six games.
Lundqvist, who made 34 saves, was again the voice of reason after the game, despite the pressure he endured as the Rangers kept coming ever-so-close to a clincher in overtime.
“It’s probably the best feeling, the feeling you are looking for after you work so hard,” he said. “You put everything you have into every game. It’s a rush.”
The Rangers nearly found an early lead when Mats Zuccarello stormed across the ice toward Price with a chance to score shortly after the game began.
But Price denied Zuccarello, and the clubs began a tense tussle. Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith and Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw punctuated the struggle with a fight midway through the opening period.
Montreal took the early advantage, scoring twice in the period to take a 2-1 lead that it held until late in the second.
But the Rangers snatched the momentum when defenseman Brady Skjei tied the score at 18:28 of the middle period by burying a rebound past Price.
The Rangers had little reason to be intimidated on the Canadiens’ ice, having won a league-best 27 regular-season games away from the Garden and recording a 2-0 shutout in Game 1 here.
The Canadiens, who got a lift from the return of the veteran defenseman Alexei Emelin from a lower-body injury, broke through on Lundqvist when the rookie Artturi Lehkonen scored his second goal of the series at 12:07 of the first off a scramble in front.
But Jesper Fast — one of the Rangers’ steadiest forwards all season and an important force so far in this series — nudged the puck past Price at 15:56 while the Rangers were short-handed.
The 1-1 tie was short-lived, however. Brendan Gallagher restored the Canadiens’ lead 24 seconds later with his first goal of the postseason.
Montreal outshot the Rangers, 15-10, in the opening period, and once again Lundqvist had to be sharp to keep the score close.
Lundqvist remained steady in the second as the Canadiens kept pouring pucks toward him. Montreal outshot the Rangers by a wide margin early in the period, but Lundqvist rejected their efforts time and again.
When Skjei broke through for the Rangers, snapping a rebound past Price for his second goal of the series, the score was left knotted at 2-2 heading into the third period.
The Canadiens had a power-play chance when J. T. Miller took a penalty 14:13 into the third. The noise reached a peak as fans implored their team with constant choruses of “Go, Habs, go!” but the Canadiens could not convert.
Montreal had a 33-26 advantage in shots heading into overtime, but the Rangers then poured on the pressure, vexing Canadiens Coach Claude Julien.
“A lot of guys have to be better,” Julien said.
The Rangers are facing the Canadiens for the 16th time in a playoff series, with the Rangers having won eight, including six-game victories in 2014, 1996, 1974 and 1972. None of the teams’ postseason meetings have ever reached a Game 7.
Heading back to New York, history is on the Rangers side.
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