MONTREAL – With the series against Boston deadlocked at one heading into Game Three, the present serves as a reminder that there are two way to look at everything.
There is little doubt at the outcome of Game Two, played at the TD Garden on Saturday afternoon, left a sour taste in the mouths of Habs players, coaches and fans. Leading 3-1 at 10:56 of the third period on the strength of a Mike Weaver slap shot goal and two powerplay tip-ins by Thomas Vanek, the Canadiens saw the Bruins roar back with three even-strength tallies and an empty-net goal to cap off the comeback. The conventional narrative would be focused on issues related to mental strength, physical fatigue or plain old intimidation, but a rational look at the current situation suggests that Michel Therrien and his staff have many tools to work with in getting their team back on track.
“When you lead three-one you’re in a position to win. It’s disappointing not to be able to convert on that lead, but globally we are happy with our position with the series tied coming back to Montreal,” offered the Habs’ head coach. “Boston showed a lot of character in making a comeback in Game Two. On our part, there are adjustments to be made. That’s part of playoff hockey. I liked the way we competed in Boston and that gave us confidence.”
“All teams are competitive and want to win. No lead is ever safe because teams never quit. We can’t stop playing our game. We’d prefer to keep pushing forward, to be aggressive,” insisted Josh Gorges, who anchors his team’s top blueline pairing alongside P.K. Subban.
One welcomed development so far for the Habs in their second-round series is the output of their special teams. A more aggressive umbrella scheme has suddenly breathed new life into the Canadiens powerplay. The unit which has struggled to produce goals down the stretch is now clicking again, going four-for-nine in the first two games of the series thanks mostly to Subban’s big point shot and to Vanek’s razor-sharp offensive instincts. The two players have tickled the twine two times apiece on the man advantage. Meanwhile, Carey Price has been sparkling on the penalty kill, turning aside all 11 shots faced at four-on-five and three-on-five with help from his defense corps. Fine work by Price et al, considering that the Bruins powerplay was the fifth best across the NHL during the regular season.
The main area of concern for Montreal’s bench boss is his team’s ability to skate through the Boston forecheck, move the puck up the ice and turn the zone entry into scoring opportunities. After thoroughly dominating Tampa Bay at the puck possession game in Round One, the Habs have had a tough time out-maneuvering the Bruins at five-on-five. Through two games, Carey Price has made 66 saves at even strength, while Tuukka Rask has only needed to get his pads on 42 pucks. When the game is on the line, with score tied or either teams up by one, Price has seen roughly twice as many shots as Rask. No matter how clutch the Olympic champion has been, the tilted ice is no easy proposition considering the depth and quality of the black-and-gold’s forward corps. Though Montreal is winning the special teams battle by a score of 4-0, Boston currently holds an 8-3 edge in scoring at five-on-five play.
“We have to do a better job at being first on the puck and stop the Boston cycle. We need to spend some more time down at their end, wearing them down. If we can move the puck in their direction and force them to play in their zone, that’ll make a big difference,” acknowledged Gorges, who has done his part by posting the second-best best puck possession numbers on his team through six postseason games.
Fortunately for Michel Therrien, he also has some other assets to work with. In Game Two, Michael Bournival played an energetic game in relief of Travis Moen, P.K. Subban had two powerplay assists while driving the play at all situations, and Carey Price kept his team in the game until the very end. With two full days to brain-storm and problem solve, Therrien’s team is bound to come out of the gates strongly in Game Three on Tuesday.
“Boston only took one shot against us in the start of the third, so that’s something to build on. We put good pressure on the puck carrier. There were some bad bounces which led to the Bergeron goal. We won’t dwell on those things. It’s positive that we were able to get one win out of two in such a tough rink to play in. Today we will regroup, go over video and discuss changes for next game. We’ve made adjustments throughout the season and it’s no different now,” concluded Therrien.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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