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Canadiens vs Rangers game preview

Can a team over-reliant on their star goaltender handle a squad with an equally talented keeper?

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

It's a time-tested formula.

At this point in the season, one can only conclude that the scientists working behind the scenes at the Bell Centre have stumbled upon the type of classic combination that simply cannot be messed with.

Like an ice cold Coca-Cola, the Montreal Canadiens elixir of success is simple, but consistent. Satisfaction is just two goals away, and once you've scored them, all you have to do is sit back and watch Carey Price take over. But what happens when that formula changes?

In the 2013-14 playoffs, the Habs were given an abrupt and unpleasant answer to that question. Without their star keeper, they were slowly ground down, unable to sustain any momentum before bowing out in six games.

Given a chance for revenge earlier this season, the Canadiens took advantage, earning a 3-1 win to exorcise some of those playoff demons. Just one month later, however, the bad memories came flooding back. Listless and tentative, the Habs were swept away, losing 5-0 to that same New York Rangers squad.

How to Watch

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In the Canadiens region (French): RDS
In the Canadiens region (English): Sportsnet East
In the Rangers' region: MSG
In the United States: NBCSN
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistic Rangers
30-13-3 Record 27-14-4
7-2-1 L10 Record 7-3-0
48.1 Score-Adjusted Fenwick % 50.1
126 Goals For 135
Goals Against 110
1.20 5v5 Goal Ratio 1.24
17.1 PP% 19.6
84.7 PK% 82.0

Know Your Enemy

There are only three NHL goaltenders who started the majority of their team's games this season that have maintained a save percentage of over .934 at even strength this year. Habs fans will be well-acquainted with one of them. The second, Pekka Rinne, is often regarded as a front-runner for the Vezina Trophy. The third member of that trio is the man the Habs will face tonight.

In something of the same way that the Canadiens have needed CP31 at the top of his game, the Rangers have needed Henrik Lundqvist near the top of his, too. The Blueshirts are allowing shots at a rate not far off of what the Habs have surrendered, but like his Quebec-based counterpart, Lundqvist has been up to the challenge.

Goaltending performance can vary greatly from night to night, but the two men who will take to the crease this evening have been among the most consistent at their position for several years. Unlike last year's playoffs, the Habs will not have to worry about playing without their most important player. They will, however, have to contend with a squad who might just have a player capable of cancelling him out.

Last Time Out

Games like the ones that immediately preceded and followed the All-Star Game are ugly, in that they illuminated Montreal's ineffectiveness in pushing play toward their opponent's end with consistency. Typically, however, even when the team's overall standard of play is poor, the Canadiens most talented players are capable of buoying the team to success. In fact, against the Predators and Stars, talented skaters like P.K. Subban and Alex Galchenyuk have demonstrated just that.

That last time out against the Rangers, unfortunately, the team was almost universally poor. When the bright lights aren't shining for Montreal, hockey at the Bell Centre gets ugly fast.

So while that game may not have been fun to watch, it did serve to prompt a slew of questions. Can the Habs compete with the NHL's best? Can they live up to the potential of their roster? Are the real Habs the ones that occasionally play to the standard of a team that just grabbed its 30th win of the year, or are losses to the Rangers and Lightning telling us something?

While these philosophical queries are no longer accompanied by doubts about the team's ability to qualify for the playoffs, most Canadiens fans would likely agree that a playoff berth should not be the only goal for this group.

Carey Price's superlative performance in 2014-15 has driven home the point that, whenever they need it, the Habs have a trump card in their hand. Tonight, we'll find out how they'll handle a team that holds the same one.