MONTREAL - The Rangers are one of six teams that have been invited by the NHL to open next season in Europe. But except for Henrik Lundqvist, they already were adrift for much of last night's 3-2 loss to the Canadiens at Bell Centre.
Trailing 3-1 and dominated for 40 minutes, the Rangers, who had outscored opponents 47-37 in third periods this season, made a furious push in an emotional game in which Lundqvist leaped on a prone Max Pacioretty after the Montreal forward collided with him near the end of the second period.
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At 6:57 of the third, Mats Zuccarello, in a scramble, fired the puck off the post past Carey Price to trim the Rangers' deficit to one. Brian Boyle, who scored the first goal of the game, bounced one off the crossbar with 9:05 to play in regulation, and Wojtek Wolski almost tied it with just over four minutes to play.
The Rangers had one final opportunity when Hal Gill pulled down Boyle with a minute to go, but the Canadiens - with three goals in 2:44 of the first - hung on.
"We looked slow to the puck, everybody'' in the first period, said coach John Tortorella, who engaged in a shouting match with fans behind the bench in the second period. "Hank gave us a chance to be at 3-1.''
After he fended off a flurry of shots on a power play, Lundqvist's emotions spilled over at 17:43 of the second period when he felt Pacioretty didn't try to stop from slamming into him. "There was a lot going on, a lot of energy,'' he said. "I kinda lost it. It happens. In this building, it's hard to stay calm" when the home team grabs the momentum.
Asked about the play, Tortorella said, "I loved it. C'mon, do I have to go into why? I loved his emotion.''
What Tortorella didn't admire was Brandon Dubinsky's roughing penalty on P.K. Subban in the first period that led to a goal. "He lost his composure there,'' Tortorella said. "He has to stay in control. It's a good lesson for him.''
After Boyle jammed a puck under Price at 6:58 of the first, the ship capsized quickly. Three Canadiens scored on the next eight shots, two on consecutive power plays. Roman Hamrlik's left-point slapper was deflected past a screened Lundqvist; Tomas Plekanec, alone at the right post, stopped Subban's pass with his skate and buried one, and Andrei Kostitsyn finished the run at 16:03 from the slot with a high, glove-side smash.
The Canadiens' speed exposed the young defense, and the Rangers had one shot on goal in the last 8:28 of the first. The frustration spilled over on the faceoff after the third goal as Kris Newbury dropped the gloves with Travis Moen, but that did little to spark the shell-shocked Rangers.
At the end of 40 minutes, the Canadiens were dominating in every category except goaltending. Lundqvist somehow stopped 26 of 29 shots. Price was tested only 12 times, and the Rangers (26-17-3) had one shot on their three power plays. But they responded with 20 shots in the third, and Lundqvist finished with 38 saves.
The game began the 12th of 18 back-to-backers for the Rangers, who are 6-5-1 in the first games. They are 10-1-0 (4-0-0 at home, 6-1-0 on the road) in the second games and host the Flyers tonight.