MONTREAL — Montreal may have lost more than just the opening game of the series.
With the Rangers already leading 2-0, Carey Price was taken down early in the second period of New York’s 7-2 pounding of the Canadiens in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final on Saturday afternoon.
At 3:15 of the second, winger Chris Kreider blew past defenceman Alexei Emelin in the offensive zone to force a breakaway. Kreider lost his balance as he shot the puck, missed the net, and slid skate-first into the Canadiens netminder.
Price spent more than 10 seconds lying on the ice clutching his right leg after the hit, and was visibly shaken when he finally got up. He spoke to a member of Montreal’s medical staff for several seconds after the play, but remained in the game, giving up two more goals before the second intermission.
He watched the third period from the bench.
“There was no reason to put Carey back in the third,” said Habs coach Michel Therrien. “It was just to protect him. You never want to see your goaltender spread out on the ice. But the fact that he didn’t play in the third period is unrelated.”
Therrien and several Canadiens players were convinced Kreider’s hit on Price was accidental. There was no penalty call on the play.
“It wasn’t really sitting for me, so I had my head down trying to settle the puck,” said Kreider, who scored the game-winning goal late in the second period. “I put it wide and somehow lost my footing. I thought maybe someone pressured me from behind. I seem to have an issue staying on my feet on those.
“I went in skates-first and I just had too much momentum and couldn’t really avoid him. It didn’t feel too good for me either.”
Despite brushing off any injury concerns, Therrien refused to answer whether Price would definitely get the start in Game 2 of the series on Monday.
“The fact that he didn’t play in the third period was more to protect him than anything,” repeated Therrien. “We were not sharp in front of him.”
“You don’t want to see that,” added Rene Bourque, who kept the Canadiens in the game with his team-leading fifth goal of the playoffs at 12:38 of the second. “Intentional? I don’t think so. He’s our best player. It was scary to see. Hopefully he’s all right.”
Price gave up four goals on 20 shots after two periods, including two in less than a minute to end the second period, lowering his post-season save percentage from .926 to .919.
The score was 4-1 Rangers at the interval.
Montreal’s frustration showed at the start of the third. The Canadiens took four minor penalties in the first three minutes, and the Rangers welcomed Peter Budaj into the game with three power-play goals on their first four shots.
Prior to this one, the Rangers had scored eight goals in their last 10 games at the Bell Centre, dating back to Oct. 2009.
And this year, Montreal and New York combined for four goals in three regular-season matchups.
But Saturday’s game was a real barnburner. The Rangers quieted the sold-out Bell Centre crowd within minutes of the puck drop. Martin St. Louis, after an emotional week during which he lost his mother, opened the score at 4:35 of the first. Mats Zuccarello added another 1:51 later.
The Rangers scored twice in 49 seconds to end the second period, and added two more in 25 seconds to open the third.
Between the end of the second and start of the final frame, the Rangers scored five times in 5:37, an ignominious post-season record for the five quickest goals allowed by the Canadiens.
“Good thing it’s a seven-game series because we have a chance to get back into it,” said Bourque. “We have to be better from the puck drop. We had a little bit of an emotional letdown after the Boston series. We talked about that going into the game. Obviously it didn’t click. We have to just forget about this game.”
This is the 15th playoff meeting between the Canadiens and Rangers. The series is split 7-7.