BROSSARD – The situation the Canadiens find themselves in heading into Game 5 may not be an enviable one, but it’s a challenge that Michel Therrien’s troops have accepted and are set to tackle straight on.
After coming up short in Game 4 on Tuesday night in Ottawa to fall behind 3-1 in the best-of-seven series to the Senators, the Habs are now facing elimination on Thursday night at the Bell Centre. Facing a must-win situation, Therrien is adamant that the game-by-game approach the Habs have lived by all season long still applies, and it’s how he wants his players to approach the critical tilt on home ice.
“Don’t look too far ahead. Don’t look at the top of the mountain,” said Therrien, explaining the message he passed along to his players prior to their optional skate at the Bell Sports Complex . “In a situation like this, just play the game. That’s been our philosophy; nothing is going to change. Our philosophy is to live in the present. The past is going to inspire you. We take inspiration from the years the team made the comeback [from 3-1 down]. The reality is that you have to live the moment.”
The Canadiens will, unfortunately, have to live that moment without several crucial figures in the lineup. Already deprived of Lars Eller, Brandon Prust, Ryan White and Brian Gionta, it was announced on Thursday morning that goaltender Carey Price would also miss the remainder of the Ottawa series with a lower-body injury. Taking all of those casualties into consideration, in addition to the added urgency of battling to keep their playoff hopes alive, veteran defenseman Josh Gorges emphasized the need for the Habs to play as one come puck drop.
“I think it magnifies [the need to play as a unit] even more when you’re missing key players from your lineup. The emphasis grows even more on being a team and playing together, playing tight,” affirmed Gorges. “We have to be five-man units all over the ice. That’s the only way we can be successful, so we’re going to be very good together out there tonight. We know the situation, we know what’s at stake, and we know what’s in front of us. [Now] we get ourselves prepared and we get ready to go.”
Among those making their first playoff appearances for the Habs in Game 5 will be goaltender Peter Budaj, who will also be making his first career start in the postseason. Budaj, who last saw action on April 27 against the Maple Leafs in Toronto, finished the regular season with a record of 8-1-1 and a 2.29 goals against average in 13 appearances.
“Every time we’ve called on Peter, he’s been very good. I have confidence in him,” said Therrien, praising Budaj’s reliability throughout the 2012-13 campaign. “When your backup is shaky, you can start having some doubts, but that’s not the case. He’s a guy that the players compete for, and he competes for them as well. On that end, I’m not too worried.”
Neither is Colby Armstrong, who was quick to point out that to a man, the Canadiens are fully behind Budaj in their quest to extend the series and send it back to Ottawa for Game 6 on Saturday night.
“He’s a good goalie. He competes hard, e gives us a chance to win, and he’s played great for us this year when he’s had to come in and shut the door,” said Armstrong. “He’s gotten us some big points throughout the season, so I know nothing changes for him in here with the way we feel about him. Obviously, the way he can play, we have a lot of faith in him.”
And, in the face of great adversity, they clearly still have a ton of faith in one another.
“[Elimination games push] you to that limit. When your back is up against the wall, and you basically have no choice, you’ve got to come out swinging,” explained Gorges. “None of us want to go home. None of us are ready to go home. We don’t have a choice but to be our best.
“With everything that we’re facing, with guys out of the lineup, with the fact that if we lose we go home, all those sorts of things should bring out the best in players. It should bring out that urgency, that sticking up for each other, playing hard for each other. We’re not ready to stop playing yet.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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