MONTREAL — This was not anything like the game from three months ago. Not even close.
But even though the Rangers didn’t reenact that epic Bell Centre comeback from Nov. 23, they fought through some sloppy and uninspiring play to come back again and register a 5-2 victory over the Canadiens on Thursday night.
The Rangers (35-24-4) scored five unanswered goals starting late in the second period to turn a 2-0 deficit into their ninth win in the past 10 games, and their 12 victory in the past 15. They extended a franchise-best road winning streak to nine games, and drew within two points of the Blue Jackets for the second wild-card spot, tied with the Hurricanes at 74 points.
The Canadiens (29-28-9) were a lot different team than the one the Rangers faced in November for that fateful game, in which the Blueshirts rallied from a 4-0 deficit for a 6-5 win they have credited as the turning point of their season. Montreal traded away key pieces at the deadline, and once again is trying to rebuild on the fly.
The Habs, nevertheless, took a 2-1 lead into the third period, after a desultory opening 40 minutes from both teams. Rangers coach David Quinn was dying for some offense, so he put his two best forwards — Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad — on the same line, and Zibanejad then had a great one-timer denied by goalie Carey Price about midway through the third to maintain Montreal’s one-goal edge.
But Price couldn’t stop Zibanejad when he took a little pass from Panarin and fired a wrist shot just inside the far post, tying it at 2-2 with just under nine minutes to play in regulation. Just 75 seconds later, a long shot from Adam Fox got through a Chris Kreider screen and beat Price between the legs, giving the Rangers a 3-2 lead.
A power-play goal on a Ryan Strome tip with 4:37 left in regulation made it 4-2, and then Strome added an empty-netter to seal the deal.
Goalie Alexandar Georgiev got his second straight start, following his excellent performance against the Islanders on Tuesday night at the Coliseum, when the Blueshirts registered a 4-3 overtime win in the first game after Monday’s trade deadline. It was also the first game after a car accident on Sunday night broke one of Igor Shesterkin’s ribs, keeping the rookie goaltender and presumptive No. 1 out until a reevaluation in “a couple of weeks.”
Georgiev was sharp again, but couldn’t stop a bad bounce in the first period, Max Domi sending a pass to the front of the net that hit the skate of Fox and went in, giving Montreal a 1-0 lead just 3:12 into the game.
The second period was a slog until the Canadiens managed to take a 2-0 lead at 17:01, when an ill-advised pinch from Jacob Trouba resulted in a breakaway for Tomas Tatar, who buried a backhand around Georgiev. The Rangers struck back just 93 seconds later, as Fox made a great spinning pass from behind the net to find Phillip Di Giuseppe in front for his first goal as a Ranger, making it 2-1 going into the third.