Opening with a lengthy road trip did not get Alain Vigneault off to a good start in his first season as coach of the New York Rangers.
Now the Rangers are hoping to get a boost from their highly-anticipated opener at a refurbished Madison Square Garden and the return of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
The Montreal Canadiens, however, have dominated New York in recent seasons and will seek their 11th win in 14 meetings when the teams face off Monday night.
The completion of a $1 billion transformation to the Garden forced the Rangers to endure a nine-game trip to open this season. They went 3-6-0 on the trek, finishing on a high note with a 3-2 overtime win at Detroit on Saturday.
Mats Zuccarello scored the tying goal early in the third before Derick Brassard got the winner on a breakaway with 12.9 seconds to go in the extra period.
"It's been a challenge. We don't have the record we want, but we saw some strides in the right direction," Vigneault said. "I know everybody is looking forward to getting in front of our great fans and playing a few home games."
New York, which won its final six at home in 2012-13, will play five of its next six at the Garden with a brief trip to Long Island to face the Islanders on Tuesday.
"As a player, it (home crowd) gives you so much energy on the ice. You play with more emotion," Brassard said. "We want to get back and see our fans."
Those fans should get to see Lundqvist in net. The Rangers' No. 1 goaltender hasn't dressed the past two games because of an undisclosed ailment but practiced Sunday at the Garden. Cam Talbot was 1-1-0 with a 1.94 goals-against average in Lundqvist's absence.
Afterward, Vigneault confirmed that Lundqvist was ready to play Monday, though the netminder had already made up his mind days earlier.
"I definitely want to play Monday," Lundqvist said after Saturday's win. "The home opener, play in front of our fans, that's my goal."
Lundqvist, who is 2-4-0 with a 3.45 GAA in seven appearances this season, is 3-1-0 with a 2.26 GAA in his last four home games against Montreal.
The Canadiens (6-5-0) swept last season's three matchups by a 9-1 margin.
Carey Price started all three of those games against the Rangers and recorded shutouts in the final two. He's allowed a combined three goals in his past two games but didn't get enough help from his teammates in a 2-0 loss to San Jose on Saturday.
Montreal was outshot 37-22, including 15-6 in the final period, to lose for the third time in four games.
"We just felt like (San Jose) just played well. There's not much else to explain it," Price said. "Guys were working hard out there. There's not much to blame as far as effort. Sometimes, another goaltender is just hot."
Price has a chance to heat up a bit against a team missing three of its top five scorers from last season: Rick Nash (concussion), Ryan Callahan (thumb) and Carl Hagelin (shoulder). Hagelin is eligible to return from injured reserve Tuesday.
The Associated Press News Service
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