Evening the score
BROSSARD – Instead of worrying about why they’re down 0-1 in the Eastern Conference finals against the Rangers, the Habs are focused on how they’re going to make it 1-1 on Monday night.
After coming out flat following an emotional Game 7 win over the Bruins to suffer a 7-2 loss in Game 1 of the Conference finals on home ice, the Canadiens held a spirited optional practice on Sunday morning with an impressive 21 skaters opting in. While some people around the city have already hit the panic button after seeing the Canadiens register their most lopsided loss of the postseason on Saturday night, the belief level inside the dressing room hasn’t dipped a single notch, and the team is ready to prove that Game 1 was an anomaly they won’t be repeating again in these playoffs.
“I just think we flat out played the worst game we’ve played since I’ve been here. No emotion, no intensity, no execution. From top to bottom it was just an awful game for us,” admitted Dale Weise, who has five points in 12 playoff games this spring, but went shotless in his 9:28 of action in Game 1 against New York. “Today is another day, the sun came up and it’s a beautiful day outside. I was driving with the windows down to the rink today. It’s a great day. When you have an optional skate and get that many guys out there, you know guys are excited. We had a couple of good laughs this morning and we feel good.”
Among the four players taking the option on Sunday morning was Carey Price, who took advantage of a therapy day after being on the receiving end of a skate-first collision when Chris Kreider blew a tire and came crashing into his crease on Saturday night. While Price was able to finish out the second period, Michel Therrien called on Peter Budaj to finish out the game in lieu of his usual starter, but the players aren’t looking at Price’s absence from practice as a cause for concern.
“It was an optional. P.K. [Subban] didn’t skate either, does that worry you too,” asked Weise with a laugh, referring to the four players who also weren’t on the ice on Sunday, including Subban, Josh Gorges, Tomas Plekanec and Lars Eller. “[Carey] takes almost every option, whether it’s morning skate or an optional. He’s got to get his rest – he holds us in there every night.”
While they may not have liked the play that caused their All-Star netminder to lay on the ice for a few seconds favoring his leg as 21,273 people held their collective breath around him, revenge is the furthest thing from their minds heading into Game 2.
“We’re in the Eastern Conference final. You shouldn’t need anything from the outside to motivate you,” stressed Brendan Gallagher, who is third on the team with nine points so far in his second career postseason. “We’re four wins away from playing for the Stanley Cup. That’s plenty of motivation in itself, but they have the same opportunity over there. They want to win just as bad. It’s just focusing on one game, getting back in the series and tying it up. If we can do that, I’ll take our chances.”
Having lost two or more games in a row just eight times this season, the Canadiens have made a habit of bouncing back from tough losses in 2013-14. Boasting a lineup of players brought in for their character as much as their skill, the Habs are a resilient group and their head coach is anticipating a gritty performance from his troops in Game 2.
“What I’ve liked about our group all season long has been our ability to respond every time we’ve stumbled. We’ve always responded the right way,” confirmed Therrien, whose team came back with a 4-0 win after their most recent loss to the Bruins in the second round. “We’ve had a good attitude and that’s not just in the playoffs, it’s been like that throughout the season. I expect that we’ll come out with the right attitude for the next game.
“After Saturday’s game, we decided to turn the page,” he added. “I don’t want to go back to that game. The only thing that matters to us is how we play on Monday night. We need to prepare, get focused and make sure we play a good game. We need to play inspired hockey to give ourselves a chance to win.”