While any 3-1 series is precarious for the team at the bottom, the Montreal Canadiens reportedly began to focus on Game 5 just minutes after a heartbreaking OT loss to the New York Rangers. Reporters waiting in the hallway heard a boisterous cheer from inside the Canadiens locker room, and when asked, players revealed that a post-game pep talk had gotten them fired up and ready to extend this series beyond just Game 5.
They are ready to win this one on home ice.
That is the kind of fight the Canadiens have shown throughout this season. Never a losing streak longer than four games, their regular season was filled with the kind of energy a team needs to bounce back after losses or disappointments. It showed in Round 2 when they won two do-or-die games in a row to eliminate the Boston Bruins. It showed in Game 2 in this series, when, despite losing to the Rangers, they played a tighter game after the shock of losing Carey Price for the series.
Undoubtedly, it comes down to scoring goals. Questions about players underperforming have permeated talk this round. And as defensive as Habs fans are about the team and their favorite players, it’s a hard reality: they need goals from their usual suspects: Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, Lars Eller, Tomas Plekanec, even the hero in Round 1, Rene Bourque.
They’ve been playing with energy, and Gallagher skates, blocks and shoots like a man possessed. But it hasn’t been enough; the goals have to happen.
Questions about whether or not the Habs have met their match in Henrik Lundqvist have also circulated far and wide. I don’t believe it is a case of goaltending alone, though Lundqvist certainly is a strength for the Rangers. However, Dustin Tokarski has more than won the confidence of his teammates, his coaches, and the usually fickle Montreal fans.
Are the Habs losing to a team that has outmatched them? Again, I don’t believe the Rangers are that much better than the Habs; they’re simply outplaying Montreal, making the Habs’ mistakes count on the scoreboard and keeping the more effective lines on the Habs to a minimal risk.
It will come down to this: the Canadiens know they are facing their biggest game yet, at least for as long as this group has been together, and the first in years in this situation. Will they overcome the buzz of “odds” and “history” and “insurmountable obstacles”?
They have to push away the almost-unavoidable fact that, tomorrow night at the Bell Centre, they have to start a trend that they have not yet accomplished in this postseason: win more than two in a row. They have to win the remaining games, and they have to do it one shift at a time so as not to become overwhelmed by the reality.
It’s a hard, steep hill to face, but these Canadiens are mentally prepared. Their post-practice interviews are filled with determination, a sense of reality with a deeply-held belief in their collective ability to overcome the challenges, the one thing that has been consistent through the postseason battles they have faced.
Fans only hope that will translate to manifest in a team that shows faster, hungrier, more desperate play than their opponents — and that the Habs will score that crucial one-goal-more-than-the-other-guys-do in order to save their postseason and force the sixth and seventh games in this series.