The New York Rangers scored first tonight. Thereafter, the Montreal Canadiens were so dominant that the principal question was how the Rangers ever had been able to beat Washington.

Breaking the game open with four second-period goals, the Canadiens won, 6-2, and took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Wales Conference championship series. Game 3 is Monday in New York.

Guy Carbonneau scored twice for Montreal and Wilf Paiement twice for the Rangers in a game that featured more cheap shots than accomplished plays. No doubt the night's proceedings left any vacationing Capitals who watched it feeling even more depressed than when they congratulated the Rangers six nights ago.

The Canadiens made no victory claims tonight and reminded visitors to their quiet dressing room that they were aware of the Rangers' comeback against Washington.

"We have to watch the Rangers," said Patrick Roy, who had a relatively easy night with 19 saves. "They will come back hard in New York, with the crowd and everything. We know they lost 8-1 and 6-3 to Washington and never lost again."

"All we did was win two games on our home ice, which we're supposed to do," said defenseman Larry Robinson. "New York is tough, and we can't afford to keep giving them so many chances, especially too many power plays."

The Rangers had seven extra-man chances tonight, but they merely broke even, converting one and yielding a shorthanded goal to Carbonneau.

"I've never seen our team play this bad. We really got our tails whipped," said New York Coach Ted Sator, who refused to attend the postgame news conference and instead took a seat on the team bus.

For a few minutes, though, the crowd of 18,072 at the Forum had reason to be nervous. Roy blocked shots by Larry Melnyk and Jan Erixon before Paiement's rebound caromed off his leg into the net at 3:15 of the first period.

"I make two saves and reach with my glove for the third shot, but it goes off the back of my leg," Roy said. "It was bad luck on that one. I knew it was in, but I reached back and tried to pull it away anyway, and I just put it back in."

Bobby Smith tied it six minutes later, coming out from behind the post at John Vanbiesbrouck's right and banging a backhander off the goalie's left skate.

After the intermission, the Canadiens took control. They outshot New York, 14-7, in the middle period, scored four times and sent Vanbiesbrouck to an early shower. The Rangers' standout goalie was replaced by Glen Hanlon at the start of the third period, giving Hanlon one relief role in each of New York's three playoff series.

Carbonneau began the rout on an open rebound, after Vanbiesbrouck got his right skate on a drive by Robinson.

Carbonneau's chin was clipped for five stitches by George McPhee, an unpenalized assault that prompted John Kordic to pound McPhee into the ice on the next shift.

The score became 3-1 after an attempted dump by Claude Lemieux struck the skate of linesman Leon Stickle and caromed to Mike McPhee in the slot. McPhee, no relation to the Rangers' rabble-rouser, put a backhander under Vanbiesbrouck's glove.

Lemieux's seventh playoff goal made it 4-1 as he skated down the right wing and hit the far corner after Bob Gainey stole the puck from James Patrick in center ice.

Overlapping stick fouls by Mats Naslund and Mike Lalor 29 seconds apart gave New York a chance to get back in the game. But the Rangers went without a shot for 61 seconds until Carbonneau lifted the puck from Patrick and Willie Huber drew a penalty for pulling him down.

Given another chance by a high-sticking penalty to Craig Ludwig, the Rangers came apart when Carbonneau circled through center ice, sped down the right wing past Bob Brooke and wound up scoring on his own rebound while lying on the ice, after Huber had hooked him down.

"I have good speed and I saw the play in front of me," Carbonneau said. "I got in front of Brooke, because he was stopped, and I put on a move and went for it."

The Rangers refused to quit in the third period. Montreal was penalized for too many men, and Paiement scored on the power play.

Sator challenged the stick of Montreal's Brian Skrudland, which was found to be illegal, but the Rangers came up dry with the extra man, and Chris Chelios completed the scoring on a Montreal power play.