TAMPA – The Canadiens landed in Tampa hoping for one win on road ice. Instead, they’re leaving with two.
Coming off a wild 5-4 overtime win on Wednesday in Game 1, the Habs were expecting a tighter-checking, much lower-scoring outing in Game 2. Revisiting the gritty brand of hockey the two teams showcased in four regular season match-ups this year, it was no surprise to see the shot totals dip and fighting majors increase in the second game of the best-of-seven series as both teams were looking to clean things up in the defensive zone ahead of Friday’s game.
“It’s such a fine line in the difference between the games and for us it’s just about sticking to our systems and limiting our mistakes,” shared Brendan Gallagher, who scored his first goal of the series on Friday night, giving him three goals in seven career postseason appearances for Montreal. “Obviously with Pricer [Carey Price] back there making big saves, it helps a lot. We just felt comfortable today. We were able to execute our game plan as well as we wanted to. But we know Game 3 is going to be a totally different story and it’s going to be a battle.”
Spending the majority of recent practices paying particular attention to special teams play after going nine games without a power play goal in 25 opportunities, the Canadiens’ PP unit finally snapped that dubious streak on Friday night, going 1-for-4 with the man advantage. While Therrien was happy to break the goose egg early on, the power play isn’t a major cause for concern for the Habs bench boss.
“That was a big goal for us on the power play and it gave the guys confidence,” admitted Therrien, who saw David Desharnais score his first career playoff goal on the power play marker. “Even the last one where we didn’t score, I really liked the way we executed with the puck. I’m not panicking with the power play. I know by working and by teaching that things are going to get better and that was the first step tonight.”
Exploding for two goals, four shots, one hit and a plus-2 differential in just over 15 minutes of ice time, Rene Bourque was in full playoff power forward mode on Friday night. Starting his evening by slipping a perfect stretch pass to Brian Gionta for an early breakaway opportunity before becoming the beneficiary of a pretty feed himself from Thomas Vanek on his first goal of the playoffs, the 32-year-old was a major factor in helping the Habs walk away from the Tampa Bay Times Forum riding a 2-0 series lead.
“It’s been a tough season for Bourquey, but since he’s been back in the lineup, he’s making [the most of] this opportunity,” praised Therrien, whose winger has now scored four goals in seven career playoff games for the Canadiens. “He’s hungry, he’s physical and he’s scoring some big goals. He had a great game tonight.”
Dancing his way through the Tampa defensive zone to score his first of the series with a goal reminiscent of John LeClair circa 1993, Bourque notched one of the prettiest goals of his postseason career on Friday night. But for the Lac La Biche, AB native, how he scores his goals is less important than how many he scores.
“I’m not really worried about style points; any playoff goal is big,” he stressed. “It was a great play [by Vanek]. I knew right away that he was going to be able to get it to me. I was screaming pretty loud for it and he hit me with speed.”
Winning their first two playoff games on the road in a best-of-seven series for just the fifth time in franchise history – and for the first time since 2011 – the Canadiens are en route back to Montreal with the possibility of not having to return to Tampa until 2014-15, but the only game the players are focused on at the moment is the next one.
“Game 3 is another big game for us. That’s going to be their biggest game of the series. They’re going to come out hard and we’re going to have to match their intensity,” confirmed Bourque. “We can’t take the night off. We have to be ready from the start and we can’t take our foot off the gas. The boys will be ready when we get home.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com
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