Rangers to face Canadiens in East finals

The New York Rangers will face the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference finals beginning on Saturday.

The Blueshirts’ opponent was settled after Montreal’s 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins in Game 7 on Wednesday night in Beantown. Though the Bruins were the heavy favorite, picked by many as the front-runner for the Stanley Cup Championship, the Habs stunned the home crowd with their series-ending victory.

This will be the first time the two clubs meet in a playoff series since 1996, when the Rangers dispatched the Canadiens in six games during the first round of the postseason.

What to make of the matchup?

Well, the Habs will have home-ice advantage and that doesn’t bode well for the Rangers.

New York has been atrocious at the Bell Centre in recent years, a troublesome eight-game losing streak that was only snapped when backup netminder Cam Talbot recorded his first NHL shutout back on Nov. 16.

Talbot also started the Rangers’ other regular-season game in Montreal this season. With a postseason berth already secured for the Rangers, coach Alain Vigneault opted to rest some of his starters, including Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Martin St. Louis and Henrik Lundqvist in the final game before the postseason.

Prior to that, the Rangers had been shutout five times in eight games against the Habs in hostile territory.

Game 1 of the series falls on Saturday, 1 p.m. at the Bell Centre, with Game 2 tentatively slated for Monday evening. The series will then shift back to Madison Square Garden for Games 3 and 4 next week.

Beyond the Rangers’ conspicuous struggles at the Bell Centre, the Habs are probably the better matchup for New York. The Rangers struggled to go toe-to-toe with the Bruins physicality but the Canadiens embrace a similar identity to Vigneault’s Rangers’ squad, one that embraces speed, skill and depth.

The Habs have all of those things, plus the type of goaltender that will be a great challenge for Lundqvist. Though Lundqvist has been lights-out as of late, netminder Carey Price has also been terrific.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Price has stopped 149 of the last 151 shots faced from the Rangers.

Combine Price’s steadiness in net, Montreal’s skilled set of forwards and perhaps the most dynamic defensemen in the game in P.K. Subban, and you have a very dangerous team.

One league insider told ESPN.com recently that Subban was by far “the best playoff player” thus far this spring, and he lived up to the billing during the team’s second-round set against the Bruins.

The 25-year-old blue-liner, who has at times endured scrutiny for his defensive liabilities, has four goals and 12 points in 11 playoff games for the Habs this spring. His electricity, passion and confidence makes him one of the most compelling players to watch and one of the most dangerous threats on the ice.

Meanwhile, the Rangers are coming off an inspirational comeback from a 3-1 series deficit in their second-round set against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Though the team went through stretches where it appeared tired and ragged, the club has played its best hockey over the last three games.

Neither team was a front-runner for the Eastern Conference finals, but both the Rangers and the Habs appear to be the type of clubs peaking at the right time and playing with plenty of emotion.

Buckle up. This should be fun.