MONTREAL -- The New York Rangers will be making their second Eastern Conference finals appearance in the past three seasons when they square off against the Montreal Canadiens to start Round 3 on Saturday afternoon. The Habs have home-ice advantage, however, and the Bell Centre -- one of hockey’s most raucous and intimidating venues -- has not been historically kind to the Blueshirts. The Rangers have won only one of the past 10 games in Montreal, but they hope to reverse their fortune in the postseason.
Respect factor: A few different Canadiens players felt they were "disrespected" by the favored Boston Bruins in the two clubs’ second-round series, but that won’t be the case when they clash with the Rangers for a best-of-seven set that decides who will advance to the 2014 Stanley Cup finals. As Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Friday in advance of the series opener, "We respect Montreal quite a bit." That sort of diplomacy from Vigneault, who also called the Habs "favorites" in the series, isn’t surprising considering he got his start as a head coach in Montreal back in 1997. He is close with Montreal head coach Michel Therrien, so don’t expect the same sort of pointed barbs between the two coaches that we all witnessed with Therrien and Bruins coach Claude Julien.
Ghostbusters: Prior to the Rangers’ first regular-season game in Montreal this season, Vigneault felt the need to dispel any myths surrounding the team’s ominous record at Bell Centre. According to veteran center Brad Richards, Vigneault cracked a joke to the team, assuring it there are "no ghosts" in the building and that they were fully capable of leaving Montreal with a win. Turns out, he was right, as backup netminder Cam Talbot recorded his first NHL shutout against the Habs in Montreal on Nov. 16, snapping an eight-game losing streak. Can Henrik Lundqvist exorcise the demons as well? The former Vezina Trophy winner has not played in the building since Jan. 12 but has been stellar so far this postseason for the Rangers.
Nash slump: Rangers winger Rick Nash has yet to score a goal during the 2014 playoffs, and you can bet that the dispiriting skid has taken its toll on the big-money man. Nash has played well away from the puck and has been an effective penalty killer, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has not been able to find the back of the net. He has scored only one playoff goal in two seasons as a Blueshirt, though he said his scoring woes are made manageable by the fact that the team is still winning. Said Nash: "The team’s big picture is way bigger than my individual struggles."
Heavy heart: Martin St. Louis returns to his native Montreal for the first time since he made an impromptu visit last Thursday after learning of his mother’s sudden death. France St. Louis died of a heart attack at age 63 last week, a tragic loss that rocked St. Louis and his Rangers teammates. St. Louis returned to play just one day after her death, however, a courageous decision that inspired the team and changed the course of its second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The entire team will be on hand to attend France’s funeral, which will be a private service held in Montreal on Sunday.
Dangerous defenseman: The Rangers had to neutralize two of the game’s most talented tandem of forwards during Round 2, and now they will be tasked with containing the league’s most dynamic defenseman in Montreal’s P.K. Subban. The 25-year-old defenseman has had a sensational playoff run thus far with four goals and 12 points in 11 games for the Habs.