MONTREAL — The Rangers have engaged in many playoff showdowns against Montreal, earning more series victories against the Canadiens than any opponent in franchise history. But the two longtime rivals have never gone the distance to seven games.
The Rangers will need one of their best home performances of the season to make sure that does not happen after Mika Zibanejad scored at 14 minutes 22 seconds of overtime for a 3-2 victory on Thursday, giving the Rangers a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Rangers dominated the overtime period against the tired-looking Canadiens at Bell Centre, putting together several solid chances before Zibanejad scored off an assist from Chris Kreider.
Game 6 is Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers almost immediately silenced the capacity crowd when Mats Zuccarello stormed across the ice toward goaltender Carey Price with a chance to score shortly after the game began.
But Price denied Zuccarello, and another tense tussle ensued between the old rivals. Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith and Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw punctuated the struggle with a fight midway through the opening period.
Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh was sandwiched early behind his net between Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov. McDonagh seemed dazed, but he kept soldiering throughout the high-paced contest.
Montreal took the early advantage, scoring twice in the first period to take a 2-1 lead that it held until late in the second period.
The Rangers snatched the momentum at 18:28 of the middle period, when defenseman Brady Skjei tied the score by burying a rebound past Price.
The Rangers were unintimidated by the Canadiens’ home ice, having won a league-best 27 regular season games away from the Garden and recording a 2-0 shutout in Game 1 here.
Montreal had defenseman Alexei Emelin in the lineup for the first time this series, adding another sandpapery veteran to the mix.
The Canadiens broke through on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist when the Finnish rookie Artturi Lehkonen scored his second goal of the series at 12:07 of the first off a scramble in front. That set off the usual earsplitting, towel-waving celebration in a hockey palace that was packed with rowdy fans and the usual line of championship banners.
But Jesper Fast — one of the Rangers’ steadiest forwards all season and an important force so far this series — nudged the puck past Price while the Rangers were short-handed with Kevin Hayes in the penalty box. Fast’s second goal of the series came at 15:56 with an assist to Zibanejad.
Just 24 seconds later, Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher restored the lead with his first goal of the postseason.
The Canadiens outshot the Rangers, 15-10, in the opening period, and once again Lundqvist had to be sharp to keep the score close.
Lundqvist has had a particularly strong series, winning Game 4 by 2-1 and recording a career-high 54 saves in a Game 2 overtime loss in Montreal.
“Henrik is always trying to be the best that he can be,” Rangers Coach Alain Vigneault said before the game. “He’s a highly motivated individual.”
Lundqvist remained steady in the second period as the Canadiens kept pouring pucks toward him. Montreal outshot the Rangers by a wide margin early in the middle period, but Lundqvist rejected their efforts time and again. He finished with 34 saves on 36 shots.
Skjei broke through for the Rangers, snapping a rebound past Price for his second goal of the series, and the score was knotted at 2-2 heading into the third period.
The Canadiens had a late power-play chance when J. T. Miller took a penalty at 14:13 of the third. The crowd noise reached a peak as fans implored their team with constant choruses of “Go Habs Go!” but the Canadiens could not convert.
Montreal had a 33-25 advantage in shots heading into overtime.
The Rangers are facing the Canadiens for the 16th time in a playoff series, with the Rangers winning eight of the previous 15 series, including a six-game victory in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals — although none of their series have ever reached a Game 7.
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