MONTREAL -- In the space of one afternoon, the Rangers swung their wrecking ball and crumbled their house of horrors.
In a 7-2 rout of the Canadiens at Bell Centre Saturday, not only did the Rangers strike first in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals, they extended their postseason winning streak to four games and snapped a hex on the scoreboard and perhaps in their minds.
The Blueshirts had scored just two goals in their previous seven visits to Bell Centre. But Saturday, they scored twice minutes after the national anthems and exploded for two more in 49 seconds at the tail end of the second period to grab a 4-1 lead and silence the boisterous crowd of more than 21,000.
"Maybe the fact that in Canada, hockey is Saturday night, not Saturday afternoon, maybe we caught them at a moment they weren't used to," coach Alain Vigneault said.
Vigneault was softening the blow because seven different players scored, including Rick Nash, who had been without a goal in 14 playoff games this season. It was the first time since 2007, against Atlanta, that the Blueshirts posted a seven-spot in the postseason. Game 2 is here Monday night.
"For whatever reason for a couple years, we haven't been able to consistently win with the different groups we've had, but we did earlier this year," Marc Staal said. "It wasn't a lack of confidence. We were focused on the first shift and I thought we were really smart with puck early."
Without Derick Brassard, who left with an upper-body injury after a midice check from Mike Weaver on his second shift, the Blueshirts prevailed with 11 forwards and behind Henrik Lundqvist, who erased some of his own failures here with 20 saves. Lundqvist hadn't won here since 2009, and didn't even start here in the last two seasons.
The Blueshirts took a 2-0 lead in the first period, a session in which they controlled the puck deep. Martin St. Louis, who attended his mother's wake Friday night, collected a backhand pass from Dom Moore at the left post and beat Carey Price at 4:35. At 6:27, Mats Zuccarello scored, playing with Benoit Pouliot and Moore. Moore was centering that line because of Brassard's absence.
For the first eight minutes of the second, the Habs stormed the Rangers' zone, like many expected they might do much earlier. They had six shots on Lundqvist, and the Rangers barely cleared some loose pucks.
Lundqvist made a big save on Brendan Gallagher at 4:35, had to clear a puck off the boards to keep it out of danger, and in his best saves, robbed P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty. "In the second period, the difference was our goaltender," Vigneault said.
But there were plenty of noteworthy players. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who was drafted by the Habs but sent to the Rangers in the Scott Gomez trade in June 2009, scored and added three assists, and Chris Kreider, Brad Richards and Derek Stepan also scored, as Price was pulled and backup Peter Budaj was victimized by three third-period goals from the previously lame Rangers power play.
With 7:22 left in the second. Brian Gionta's close-in whack deflected off McDonagh's stick and popped off the post and in, cutting the lead to 2-1. Then the tide turned, with the Rangers killing a power play with 4:07 left, and Kreider streaking in to score with 1:01 left and Richards' wrister, set up by a cool spin move from Zuccarello, zipping by Price with 12 ticks on the clock. The heads were hanging on the home team bench.
"A win's a win," Staal cautioned. "But everything re-starts, they're going to come back hard."