TAMPA BAY – Despite coming up short on Tuesday night in the Sunshine State, the Canadiens are playoff bound.
Michel Therrien’s troops clinched a spot in the postseason when the Capitals and Devils both lost their respective tilts, ensuring the bleu-blanc-rouge will vie for the Stanley Cup for a second consecutive season.
It wasn’t the way the Canadiens were hoping to secure their place in the NHL playoffs, particularly because a win over the Lightning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum would have put them over the top under their own terms, and provided an important confidence boost heading into a likely opening-round matchup against Jon Cooper’s contingent in a couple of weeks.
“It’s a relief to have qualified for the playoffs. If you look at our season as a whole, earning a playoff berth is an accomplishment in itself,” offered Therrien, who watched his squad drop a 3-1 decision to the Lightning which snapped the Habs’ five-game winning streak. “The process that we go through in order to advance to the postseason is very demanding and very taxing. I would have liked that we’d qualified under better circumstances, but if you look at it on the whole, it’s a nice accomplishment.”
Captain Brian Gionta shared similar sentiments in the aftermath of the Habs’ first loss since Mar. 20. With 10 postseason appearances and a Stanley Cup ring on his resume, the Rochester, NY native knows a thing or two about the ingredients necessary for playoff success in the long run.
“It wasn’t the game we wanted to play and it’s not how we wanted to get in. It’s a tough matchup with a team we could possibly face. We wanted a little better effort, but the fact that we got some help from other teams, obviously it’s nice that we clinched,” confided Gionta, who admitted that deviating somewhat from their plan of attack and chasing the play as opposed to dictating it ultimately cost them the game.
“Tampa is a very similar team to us. They don’t give you much. They don’t give you a lot of opportunities. You need to be patient with them. They’re waiting for that opportunity to kind of break open, and you have to make sure that you don’t press and you don’t give it to them,” continued Gionta. “At times, we started to do that. We got caught up in their game, what they wanted to do to us. We’ll see what the matchup holds in a couple of weeks, but now we want to finish this season strong.”
Carey Price will undoubtedly give them a good chance to do just that. On Tuesday night, the three-time All-Star put forward another stellar effort between the pipes, offering up a 30-save performance that featured one highlight-reel stop after another in front of Habs supporters aplenty.
“It’s no different than any other game. He’s kept us in it. Some of the saves he made to keep that game close were huge,” praised Gionta. “It probably shouldn’t have been that close. We had a decent first period, but in the second and third, you could tell by the penalties that we were back on our heels. He gave us a chance to win. We had a pretty good run the last five or six games, but at this point we need to look ahead and figure out what works for us.”
The Canadiens may have to go about that task without Douglas Murray for at least a few games after the veteran rearguard received a match penalty for elbowing defenseman Michael Kostka in the head late in the third period. That decision will be up to the league, which will likely review the hit in short order.
“He’s coming through the middle and I had a guy to my right. He’s cutting in and I’m paying attention to both guys. I’m trying to finish my check at the same time I’m trying to keep an eye on the guy next to me. I’m just happy to see him get up and doing better,” said Murray. “I thought I had my arm tucked in. I’m not going to comment on it because I didn’t get a chance to look at it afterwards. It’s a quick game, and I’ve never been suspended in nine years. I don’t think I’m a dirty player.”
Regardless of Murray’s fate, Therrien insists the key right now is to ensure the Canadiens are firing on all cylinders in their five remaining regular season games, two of which will come later this week with back-to-back contests against Ottawa and Detroit on Friday and Saturday night respectively.
“We were way too fancy out there against Tampa. It’s not the style of play that we’re used to playing. We have to get back to basics,” stressed Therrien. “We need to make sure that we’re playing the right way and putting pressure on the opposition. When you play fancy hockey, you create turnovers and you really do hurt yourself.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
The Numbers Game - April 1st, 2014
Max Pacioretty earns Molson Cup honour for February & March