GREENBURGH, N.Y. — It’s been three years, but Chris Kreider remains Public Enemy No. 1 in Montreal. His slide that upended goaltender Carey Price in Game 1 of the 2014 Eastern Conference finals and knocked Price out of the series with a lower-body injury has not been forgotten.
The Rangers left wing, who was slashed by Alexei Emelin during the second-period breakaway in which Price was injured, called the collision accidental. Canadiens fans ripped him for a cheap shot and Brandon Prust scoffed: “Accidentally on purpose.” Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said Kreider didn’t “make much effort to avoid the contact.”
On Monday, Kreider said the incident was “a long time ago” and that he is focused on the upcoming first-round series, which starts Wednesday night at Bell Centre. He insisted that he hasn’t changed and won’t change his hard-nosed style.
“For me to be effective, I need to get to the crease. That’s where I’m going to score goals,” said Kreider, who had a career-high 28 goals and 53 points this season. “I’m not scoring from distance, so I need to be a big body and get to the top of the paint and try to bang stuff home. I’m lucky to play with some very good players [center Derek Stepan and right wing Mats Zuccarello] who really want the puck along the perimeter and are able to get it to the net. So I’ve got a real easy job — well, I’ve got a simple job, it’s not always the easiest thing to do — just get there, try to tip pucks or jam pucks home.”
Truth be told, the 6-3 Kreider also has blazing speed, but his net-front presence can trigger penalties, presumably not by reputation alone. He was whistled for four goaltender-interference minors this season, the most in the NHL.
Naturally, Kreider, who parachuted into the playoffs straight out of Boston College in 2012 and scored five goals in 18 games, expects a black-and-blue battle. “It’s the playoffs,’’ he said. “I think everyone’s going to try to lift their physical play a little bit. I think everyone’s going to try to finish their checks clean and hard and try to take a chunk.
“It’s a long series, so you want to try to wear down your opponent. There’s not a lot of space out there, especially at this time of year.”
After 65 postseason games in which he has picked up 33 points, Kreider said the experience has been valuable. “I know how the game’s going to be played,” he said. “My first year, I had no NHL experience and was really surprised. You’re taken aback the first few shifts. I think experience is important, but at the same time, if you’ve got young guys who are excited, they can be a weapon, too.”
Notes & quotes: Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who said “it’s safe to say going in that Montreal will be considered favorites,” always has had a very good relationship with current Canadiens coach Claude Julien. They were teammates for Salt Lake of the Central Hockey League for two seasons in the early 1980s. Julien also was the Bruins’ coach when Boston beat Vigneault’s Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. “Obviously, losing Game 7 put a little damper in our relationship for a little bit of time. That’s over,” Vigneault said. “But at the end of the day, I feel he owes me one.”