New York Rangers head coach Alan Vigneault has said all the pressure in the Eastern Conference Finals falls solely on the opposing Montreal Canadiens.
“We know going into this series, and rightfully so, that they’re the favorites,” Vigneault said Friday according to the New York Daily News. “This is going to be the first time in these playoffs. Against Tampa and against Boston they were the underdogs. They didn’t have home ice. Now, they’re going into this series and theoretically they’re expected to win. Pressure does funny things to different people. I’m anxious to see how they’re going to react.”
Vigneault also said he hasn’t figured out a way to beat the Canadiens just yet, but nevertheless they will drop the puck on Game One Saturday afternoon at Bell Centre.
Each side is coming off grueling seven-game series during which they came up with improbable comebacks. New York bested Pittsburgh after facing a 3-1 series deficit, while Montreal won two straight to climb out of a 3-2 series hole.
The series features arguably two of the hottest goalies in the postseason in New York’s Henrik Lundqvist and Montreal’s Carey Price.
Lundqvist is tops in these playoffs with a .931 save percentage with an 8-6 record, and recently shutdown the potent Pittsburgh offense in the 2-1 Game Seven with 35 saves. Price has let up one goal in his last two starts, making 55 saves off 56 attempts to help overthrow the defending East champs Boston.
The Canadiens offense has run through defenseman P.K. Subban, who’s recorded four goals and eight assists, and left winger Thomas Vanek with five goals in the postseason.
Left wing Max Pacioretty has also scored two of his three postseason goals in Montreal’s last two games, and could only be warming up.
New York center Brad Richards has notched nine total points with four goals, and is one of four Rangers with five assists in the postseason. Left wing Carl Hagelin and center Derick Brassard also have four goals.
The Rangers defense will try to shut down a Montreal attack that’s been the most dangerous in the postseason. Enter defenseman Anton Stralman, Kevin Klein and Marc Staal, who all sport a plus-minus of plus-7.
Only one of the Canadiens defensemen, Mike Weaver, equals the defensive rating of the Rangers. But Francis Bouillon has a plus-4, while Josh Gorges and Subban are next up at plus-3. Much of Montreal’s defensive pressure may have to come up front in the neutral zone, keeping New York’s playmakers at bay.
Start Time: 1 p.m. EST
TV Channel: NBC
Live Online Stream Info: A live online stream is available at NBC Live Extra here
Prediction: Montreal over New York 3-2