(Reuters) - The visiting New York Rangers overcame a spirited start by the Montreal Canadians with some brilliant goaltending and a string of three goals for a 3-1 win on Monday to seize a commanding 2-0 lead in the NHL Eastern Conference Finals.
Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist stopped 40 of 41 shots, frustrating a slew of scoring chances with a rock-steady performance in the face of relentless pressure.
Goals by Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis answered an initial score by the Canadiens to send the series back to New York’s Madison Square Garden for Game Three on Thursday.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault gave Lundqvist a lot of credit for the victory.
“He’s the only reason why we were still in the game. After a tremendous push they had control and possession of the game when they scored,” Vigneault said.
“Obviously the turning point was we ended up scoring to tie it up off a lucky bounce and that changed the dynamics of the game.”
The swarming, determined Canadiens, playing with untested rookie Dustin Tokarski in the net for injured goalie Carey Price, peppered Lundqvist with shots from the start and took a 1-0 lead at 6:14 on a ricochet goal in front of the net by Max Pacioretty.
Seventeen seconds later the Rangers equalized on an unassisted goal by McDonagh, whose blast bounced off Montreal’s Josh Gorges and past the 24-year-old Tokarski, starting his eighth NHL game and first playoff contest.
The Rangers took the lead with one minute left in the first period on a three-on-two break as Chris Kreider whipped a cross-ice pass to Nash, who one-timed it past Tokarski to make it 2-1 for New York, who were outshot 14-9 in the period.
New York increased the lead when St. Louis scored a picture book goal from the middle of the ice into the upper right corner of the net at 8:03 of the second period that made it 3-1.
Lundqvist had to get through one last desperate push by the Canadiens, who pulled Tokarski from the net with 4:22 left in the game after a boarding penalty against New York’s Benoit Pouliot on Alexei Emelin for a six-on-four Montreal advantage.
The Swedish goaltender warded off five shots during that attack and the Rangers were going home with a chance to end the series on home ice with Games Three and Four at the Garden.
“This was definitely a battle from the start,” said Lundqvist. “It’s definitely a great feeling when you come together as a group and you pull off a big one like this. It’s awesome.”
McDonagh had high praise for the netminder.
“He made some big saves in big moments,” said McDonagh, whose goal and assist gave him a total of six points from the Rangers’ two victories in Montreal. “He battled through screens and traffic and stood tall.”
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien was proud of how his team played after an opening 7-2 thrashing by the Rangers. Montreal outshot New York 40-31 in the contest.
“You need some breaks and you need some calls at the right time,” Therrien said. “Right now we don’t have those breaks and tonight we didn’t have those calls at the right time. But I like our team effort. I think our effort was great tonight.”
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly