Canadiens face Rangers in unexpected East Final

Thu May 15, 2014 7:23pm EDT
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By Steve Keating

(Reuters) - The Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers will face off in an Eastern Conference Final that few would have predicted but the matchup of Original Six rivals could be the highlight of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The best-of-seven series, which begins Saturday in Montreal, is both rich in history and subplots, the most intriguing being the looming goaltending duel between the Canadiens' Carey Price and Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist.

Nowhere in the world does passion for hockey burn hotter than Montreal, where one of the city's universities offered a course called The Religion of the Canadiens and where fans are eager to see the team snap a title drought dating back to 1993.

"I told the guys, moving on to the third round, you have no idea what (Montreal) is going to be like," Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban said. "I feel sorry for the team that's got to come into our building now."

But they also love their hockey in the Big Apple and it has been nearly as long since the Rangers were the toast of Broadway and paraded the Stanley Cup along Manhattan's famous Canyon of Heroes in 1994 after ending a 54-year barren run.

The starting goaltenders for the penultimate round of the playoffs represent a rematch from the gold medal game at the Sochi Olympics where Canada's Price outplayed Sweden's Lundqvist in a 3-0 win.

Including the Olympic medal round in Sochi, Price is 5-0 in elimination games this year with a stellar .984 save percentage and will now be now counted on to anchor Montreal's bid to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

"He's a leader; he's the guy on this team," said Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty. "He spoke up and said something like, 'Only live in the moment, don't worry about the past.' I don't know if that's the difference in his game this year from every other year, but I'm speechless with how he's playing."   Continued...

Montreal Canadiens fans celebrate following their NHL Game 7 win over the Boston Bruins in Montreal, May 14, 2014. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi