Heart of a lion
MONTREAL - On a night when their backs were up against the wall and winning was the only option, the Canadiens staved off elimination with their best effort of the playoffs.
Performing as a cohesive unit from the opening draw to the final buzzer, Michel Therrien’s troops ensured their Eastern Conference semifinals series against the archrival Bruins would go the distance after securing a decisive 4-0 victory at the Bell Centre on Monday night on the strength of Carey's Price fourth career playoff shutout and timely goal scoring.
In the aftermath of what can only be classified as the Habs’ most significant victory thus far this year, Therrien was quick to point out the factors that ultimately allowed his club to turn the tables on the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners in Game 6.
“The guys played with a lot of energy and emotion tonight. It was practically the best game of the season. That’s what I took away from this particular game,” offered Therrien, whose contingent will contest Game 7 against the Bruins on Wednesday night at TD Garden for the right to earn a spot in the Eastern Conference finals. “Everyone was involved. That’s exactly it. Every player who suited up for this game contributed in their own way. It was a team win, and a very good team win at that.
“It says a lot about the type of character this group has,” added the Canadiens’ bench boss, before going on to praise his team’s resiliency in the face of tough odds and plenty of adversity during the 2013-14 campaign. “When people think they’re down, they always find a way to rebound. That’s been the strength of our team all season long. It was no different in Game 6.”
Case in point was the manner in which the Canadiens came out of the gate on Monday night during a wide open first period after a lacklustre effort in Game 5. Lars Eller lit the lamp at the 2:11 mark of the opening frame and the Habs never looked back, going on to outhustle, outhit, outwork, and ultimately outplay the Bruins when momentum was still up for grabs early on. The Canadiens wanted to dictate the play in Game 6 and use the strength and energy of the Bell Centre faithful to their advantage, and that's exactly what transpired.
“We were ready to play. This was Game 6 for them, but it was Game 7 for us. I thought we came out hard. They played hard, too. They pushed back, but Pricer played great like he has all series long. We just found a way to score,” offered Thomas Vanek, who now leads the Canadiens with five playoff goals in 2014 after tallying twice in Game 6. “We moved the puck well. We closed our gaps. We got lucky at times, but I think when you work hard, luck is on your side. The difference tonight was that we played well as a team. Every line played good hockey. Our D was great, and Price was Price back there.”
As expected, it didn’t take long for the Canadiens’ focus to shift from the all-important Game 6 victory to their next test, one that will demand another all-out effort in a rather hostile and inhospitable building.
In Therrien's eyes, however, the chance to compete in a do-or-die tilt presents a unique opportunity for everyone involved, especially for the Habs, who've given the league's best team during the regular season all they can handle in Round 2.
“Anything can happen in Game 7. That’s the beauty of it,” explained Therrien. “I’ve always had a gambler-like philosophy in these situations. Some people might bet that you’re going to hit on black 10 times in a row before you finally hit on red. That’s not necessarily realistic. The next game we play is a new moment entirely. Anything can happen.”
One player who knows that first-hand is Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban, who took part in the Canadiens’ last Game 7 appearance during an opening-round playoff series against the Bruins in April 2011. Needless to say, the dynamic defenseman is dead set on doing everything he can to ensure the Habs achieve a far different result this time around.
“I remember losing in Boston. I remember that we had an opportunity to win. I remember going to overtime and then seeing a shot that bounced through a guy’s legs and went in. That can be the difference in Game 7,” confessed Subban, who leads the Canadiens with 12 points in ten postseason tilts this year.
“This is going to be the biggest game of the year for us, and for some guys it’s going to be the biggest game of their careers so far,” continued the 25-year-old rearguard. “It’s fun. It’s where legends are made.”
It’s also the opportunity to move one step closer to securing hockey's top prize.
“It gives us a chance. That’s all we can ask for,” stressed Vanek.