In the space of one afternoon, the New York Rangers swung their wrecking ball and crumbled their house of horrors.
In a 7-2 rout of the Canadiens at Montreal's Bell Centre on 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 Rangers had scored just two goals in their past 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 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 Rangers posted a seven-spot in the postseason. Game 2 is back in Montreal on Monday.
"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 mid-ice check from Mike Weaver on his second shift, the Rangers 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 past two seasons.
The Rangers 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 Price at 4:35. At 6:27, 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.
Kings-Blackhawks: On Friday night, the Los Angeles Kings were in Anaheim for Game 7 of their second-round series against the top-seeded Ducks. On Saturday, they traveled 1,700 miles to Chicago on the eve of Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. Not much rest for Los Angeles, but certainly better than the alternative.
The Kings will take on the Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon in a short turnaround from their series-clinching 6-2 victory over Anaheim. It is a rematch of last year's Western Conference finals, when the Blackhawks won in five games on the way to their second Stanley Cup title in four seasons.
Los Angeles is making its third consecutive appearance in the Western Conference finals after the Kings rallied past San Jose and Anaheim in the first two series. The Sharks had a 3-0 lead in the first round, and the Ducks led 3-2 in their series against the Kings.
Chicago has been waiting for its next opponent since it beat Minnesota 2-1 in overtime in Game 6 on Tuesday night. The Blackhawks had a similar break after they eliminated St. Louis in the first round. The break provided more time for Chicago forward Andrew Shaw to get healthy. The center missed the final five games of the Wild series with an apparent right leg injury, but he skated before the Blackhawks practiced on Saturday and could return after Game 1 against the Kings.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.