On This Date, May 17, 2014: Chris Kreider and Rangers Crash-Land in Montreal

75756A5E-120A-4932-810C-2FD980DB785E
By WFAN Sports Radio 101.9 FM/66AM New York

On this day in Rangers history, the Blueshirts squared off against the Montreal Canadiens in the first game of what would develop into an explosive 2014 Eastern Conference Final.

The Rangers entered Bell Centre riding a wave of confidence, having rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the favored Pittsburgh Penguins in round two.

Early goals from Martin St. Louis and Mats Zuccarello gave the Blueshirts a 2-0 lead before the seven-minute mark of the first period. The opening 20 minutes went exactly to plan for the visitors. New York stamped their authority by outshooting Montreal, 12-6.

The usually raucous Bell Centre had been silenced – but not for long. A controversial play in the second period changed the series. Still to this day, the incident has Habs fans seeing red.

Chris Kreider found a seam between multiple Montreal defenders are barreled down on net. A one-handed slash by Alexei Emelin caught Kreider’s skate, sending him skates-first into Carey Price’s right pad.

It was a moment that branded Kreider as Public Enemy No. 1 in Montreal. Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien accused Kreider of a reckless play.

“Looking at the incident, you know, it’s a reckless play,” Therrien said. “That’s the truth. Kreider, this is not the first time he’s going at goalies, so we end up losing our best player.”

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault would describe the collision as “a hockey play.” He defended his forward and his team’s style of play, whom some critics had routinely described as passive.

“Kreider is a good player, an honest player like the rest of our team,” Vigneault said. “We play a straight-forward game, whistle-to-whistle.”

Controversy would define the series. Rene Bourque’s goal was scored on what the Rangers argued was a too many men on the ice infraction. Montreal had cut into New York’s lead, 2-1.

Price continued in net for the remainder of the second period. Kreider would regain the Rangers’ two-goal advantage with 1:01 left in the middle frame by accelerating to open ice and guiding a well-placed wrist shot past Price. Seconds later, Brad Richards extended the Blueshirts’ lead to 4-1.

Peter Budaj was summoned from the bench to replace Price at the start of the third period. The Rangers goals kept coming. First Ryan McDonagh, then Derek Stepan and finally – Rick Nash scored three goals in less than five minutes. Since Bourque’s goal, the Rangers racked up five unanswered goals and gained a 7-1 scoreboard lead. A Lars Eller goal was little consolation to the Habs in a 7-2 blowout defeat.

Of greater concern to Montreal, Price would miss the rest of the playoffs due to a sprained knee. Dustin Tokarski would earn the nod as starter for the remainder of the series. Up to that point, Price had recorded a .919 postseason save percentage.

An embarrassing Montreal loss and a season-ending injury to their star netminder set the stage for a bitter series that would include the suspensions of Brandon Prust and Dan Carcillo and Stepan playing with a wired shut broken jaw.

The drama of a series that featured two overtime deciders wasn’t contained to the ice. Brendan Gallagher and Danny Briere questioned the severity of Stepan’s injury.

“He got up and he was yapping and yelling,” Gallagher said. “So, I’m sure the jaw isn’t hurting too much.”

“I think it seems a little fishy to me," Briere said. “It seems like a little bit of a game."

Therrien got in hot water for appearing to imply that the Canadiens would target a returning Brassard in Game 4.

“We expect Derick Brassard to play,” Therrien said. “We know exactly where he's injured. Hockey is a small world.”

If that wasn’t enough, there was a bizarre moment before Game 4 where the Canadiens kicked two of the Rangers’ assistant coaches out of practice and accused the Blueshirts of gamesmanship.

Even Vigneault and Therrien took a break from their longtime friendship.

“I think he said prior to the series, for this two-week period, we're not really friends," Vigneault said. “He's probably right.”

In the end, the Rangers prevailed in six games with Dominic Moore’s goal sending the Blueshirts to their first Stanley Cup Final since the curse-breaking playoffs of 1994.

Follow Sean on Twitter -- @HartnettHockey