MONTREAL — In a matter of 62 seconds Saturday night, the Rangers lost their poise, their structure and a game.
Starting at 10:53 of the third period, the Canadiens exploded for three goals, turning a one-goal deficit into a two-goal lead as they added a chapter to the Rangers’ horrifying history at Bell Centre with a 5-4 win.
“My first three or four years when Torts [coach John Tortorella] was here, he used to say there were ghosts in this building,” Derek Stepan said. “It’s kind of stuck with this group. We came into a tough building and played the majority of it really well — except for 62 seconds.”
To add injury to insult, goaltender Antti Raanta, who brought a 10-4 record into the game, suffered what the team described as a lower-body injury and did not return for the second period.
He was relieved by Henrik Lundqvist, who again struggled and said he is “just trying hard to be positive right now.” The Canadiens scored five times on 22 shots in the final 40 minutes. Raanta had stopped all 10 shots in the first.
“The last two games [including a 4-2 loss to the Maple Leafs at the Garden Friday night], it’s not been bouncing the right way,” said a downcast Lundqvist, who never saw the 65-foot goal by Alex Emelin that triggered the devastating three-score spree.
Max Pacioretty split the defense and beat Lundqvist through the five hole at 11:29 and Paul Byron’s backhander from 12 feet glanced off Adam Clendening’s skate and in at 11:55. Suddenly, the shellshocked Blueshirts were down 5-3.
“Every time we come in here, something weird happens,” Dan Girardi said. “It gets away from us pretty quick tonight and we needed a way to get some o-zone shifts and stop the bleeding, but they had momentum and kept coming and coming.”
“The puck seemed to have eyes,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “We scored four goals on Price, which we hadn’t done in a while, but we didn’t get it done.”
With 5:07 left, Stepan backhanded a floating puck past Carey Price at the right post to cut the Rangers’ deficit to 5-4.
After a wacky first 40 minutes that included Andrew Shaw’s game-misconduct ejection for a late hit on Jesper Fast and a fight with J.T. Miller, two goaltender-interference challenges, a shorthanded goal and the injury to Raanta, the Rangers led 3-2.
Four seconds into the first Rangers power play, Stepan won a draw and Brandon Pirri’s high one-timer hit the far corner for a 1-0 lead at 12:24 of the first period.
The Canadiens thought they had scored at the four-minute mark on Phillip Danault’s backhander, but the goal was challenged and overturned because Shaw had interfered with Raanta.
For Lundqvist, the trouble started right away in the second period. Alex Galchenyuk, alone in front, tipped down a shot from the left boards past him at 3:08 to forge a 1-1 tie.
The Rangers went ahead 2-1 at 6:20. Kevin Hayes picked up a loose puck and deked Price, who stopped his one-handed reach-around, but Rick Nash buried the rebound. Hayes’ right skate snagged Price’s pad at the left post before Nash’s rising shot and Canadiens coach Michael Therrien challenged the call, but the officials ruled no interference, and boos poured down.
Pavel Buchnevich was credited with the secondary assist, his second in two games.
With the Canadiens swarming, Kevin Klein couldn’t cover several Habs hacking away in front and Brian Flynn banged the puck past a prone Lundqvist at 7:58.
With Nick Holden in the penalty box, Miller drove to the net and scored shorthanded on a pretty feed from Hayes at 11:07 of the second for a 3-2 edge that ultimately dissolved. It was almost like grasping at ghosts.