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Here is my column from The Journal News and Lohud.com:
By Rick Carpiniello
GREENBURGH – Alain Vigneault was still very new as the Rangers’ coach. His team was trying to find its way.
It was Nov. 16, and it certainly doesn’t qualify, even today, as a turning point. But Vigneault, who had broken into the NHL head-coaching ranks with the Canadiens, knew that to the Rangers, Montreal’s arena, now called the Bell Centre, was a house of horrors. They had won one of their last 11 visits.
So, Brad Richards relayed Thursday, Vigneault had a talk with his players and assured them, from experience, that there really were no ghosts in the building. Then Cam Talbot went out and blanked the Habs 1-0 for the Rangers’ first win in nine games there. It was also the only goal the Rangers scored against Montreal this season (1-1-1).
See? It’s not impossible to win there. But it sure has been rare for the Rangers, and even rarer for their MVP, who is less than a mere mortal statistically against the Canadiens, whom he will face Saturday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final.
Henrik Lundqvist is 4-5-2 in the Bell Centre, plus a no-decision as a rookie when he was pulled after four goals in eight minutes. In his past seven starts in Montreal, his goals-against average is a ghastly 4.53, with a lousy .873 save percentage. That included a 6-5 shootout loss in which the Rangers led 5-0 almost midway through the second period.
Lundqvist has not played in the Rangers’ last four visits, nor in six of seven. Talbot took a 1-0 OT loss there in the season finale, which meant nothing.
Lundqvist was asked about the record a few times on Thursday. As expected, he wouldn’t dwell on the negative. In fact, he laughed a couple of times.
“It’s so long ago since I’ve played there so I don’t really remember,” he said, smiling.
“No, I look forward to go there. I’m excited. I mean, it’s a conference final in Montreal. That’s special, and I’m excited about that. Then, when it comes to my game, I’m just going to try to go out and play the same way and don’t overthink it — try to enjoy it.
“As a goalie when you analyze your game, you have to be careful because, yeah, there’s been some different types of games out there, but there’s been some solid ones as well.”
Lundqvist and Team Sweden also lost to Habs goalie Carey Price and Canada in the Olympic gold-medal game in Sochi. He said he welcomes the challenge of the rematch.
Price, who took the loss to Talbot in November and the win in the OT finale, has five shutouts and allowed one goal total in his last six at home against the Rangers.
It may not be a house of horrors for all the Rangers. Richards — whose Tampa Bay team swept the Canadiens in ‘04, winning twice in Montreal — called it “the greatest place to play in our sport.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play in the playoffs up there, and there’s really nothing like it. I can’t wait to get up there.”
“Montreal,” Vigneault added, “is a great building to play, whether you’re the home team — and I can talk from experience — or whether you’re the visiting team.
“Montreal, they’ve just beaten the best team in the NHL. So we’re going to have our hands full.”
Lundqvist, coming off the eye-popping comeback win over Pittsburgh, doesn’t mind it one bit.
“It’s a great atmosphere,” Lundqvist said. “Any time you play in a building where the crowd is into it, it’s a good feeling when you go in and win and silence them. Your mindset is to go in and win.”
Photo by Getty Images.