NHL on NBCSN: Rangers, Canadiens seek edge as divisional battles intensify


NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign with a doubleheader tonight. It will start at 7:00 p.m. ET with the New York Rangers hosting the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden. In addition to NBCSN, you can watch it online.

If the playoffs were to start today, neither the Rangers or Canadiens would be in ideal positions. Despite winning three games in a row, the Canadiens rank third in the Atlantic Division while New York is limited to a Wild Card spot after Washington’s 4-0 victory over Pittsburgh last night.

But neither team is down by much. The Rangers have played in three fewer games than the two squads directly ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division — Washington and Pittsburgh — and they’re only four points shy of second place and the home ice advantage that comes with it. Meanwhile, Montreal has played in two fewer contests than the Atlantic-leading Detroit Red Wings and only trail them by two points.

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So the opportunity to climb the ranks is there for the taking. Getting that edge could prove critical given the burden of expectations that the Rangers and Canadiens share.

After all, the home ice advantage has certainly helped the Rangers lately against the Canadiens. New York claimed Games 4 and 6 at Madison Square Garden to eliminate Montreal in the 2014 Eastern Conference Final. The Rangers and Canadiens have faced each other twice this season, with the home team winning each contest.

That’s good news for New York tonight.

“It’s been a building that we haven’t had that much success in, so for us going there I think we’re going to be motivated. We went there earlier in the year, and things didn’t go very well. We didn’t put together a very good effort. We want to bounce back and improve on that. Certainly, when we go there we’ve got to have that mindset that it’s going to be a very challenging game,” Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher said, per the Canadiens’ website.

Max Pacioretty will be a player to watch in this game. Although he’s Montreal’s leading scorer with 38 points, he has just five goals and four assists in 19 career contests against the Rangers. He did have four points in the six-game 2014 playoff series, but he came under heat after Montreal was eliminated with Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur questioning his ability to step up when confronted by adversity.

On the Rangers side, Henrik Lundqvist will be the X-Factor if he starts. Lundqvist has traditionally had been lackluster against the Canadiens, with a 2.75 GAA and .900 save percentage in 29 contests. That being said, he shut them out in his last meeting and also did so in Game 6 of the 2014 series.

Perhaps Montreal’s days of haunting him are in the past. That and the Rangers recent dominance over Montreal at home will be put to the test tonight.