BROSSARD, Quebec -- Three years ago, the sixth-seeded Montreal Canadiens came home with a 2-0 series lead against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Bell Centre was rocking when the Canadiens and Bruins took the ice for Game 3.
But instead of riding the momentum of winning the first two games of the series on the road, the Canadiens lost Game 3, 4-2, and Game 4, 5-4 in overtime. Boston won two of the final three games to advance, and Montreal was left wondering what happened to the "commanding" 2-0 series lead they had.
The Canadiens now have plenty of different players on their roster and a different coach. But for those who remain, it was a valuable lesson that can be applied to Games 3 and 4 of their 2014 Eastern Conference First Round series with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Montreal leads the best-of-7 series after winning the first two games in Tampa Bay, including 4-1 on Friday. Game 3 is Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, SUN).
"It's big, it's huge, but at the end of the day, we fell into that trap against Boston a few years back," Canadiens captain Brian Gionta said Saturday. "We won two games in their building and we came back and let off the gas a bit. So we need to make sure that tomorrow night is our focus and we have to do the things that have made us successful in the first two games and make sure we stick with that."
Gionta can provide advice and insight for the younger Canadiens who haven't been in this situation before. He plans to be as much of a calming presence as he can, but as he said Saturday, it's about them drawing from what experience they have.
Last spring, some of the young Canadiens got their first taste of the playoffs. Montreal came into the postseason as the second seed in the Eastern Conference after winning the Northeast Division but lost to the Ottawa Senators in five games in the opening round. Gionta said he is hoping that serves as a similar lesson to the one he and the 2011 Canadiens learned.
"You need to go out there and experience it for yourself, and that's the whole point of having gone through it before," Gionta said. "You can say all you want and you can look to people all you want, but unless you're out there and doing it, it's tough to gain that experience. Our young guys have been extremely composed so far through the first two games, but it's just that, it's the first two games."
Montreal coach Michel Therrien wasn't coaching the Canadiens in 2011, but he was behind the bench for that series loss to Ottawa. Through the first two games of this series with the Lightning, he's seen his team maintain an even-keel approach it didn't have last season, especially after their 5-4 overtime win in Game 1 when they could've gotten carried away.
"We have to make sure we stay stable with our emotions," Therrien said. "I thought after Game 1 our emotion was stable, and then the next day we understood that we had to prepare and practice for the next game, and that's what we did. Now today we're doing the same thing."
The Canadiens' biggest test in terms of controlling emotions and channeling momentum may await them at Bell Centre for Game 3. Though the support of the fans and the raucous environment can work against the visiting Lightning, it can backfire and work against the Canadiens. Gionta said his teammates must channel the energy to their advantage and not get too caught up in the atmosphere.
"We want to use that momentum," Gionta said. "Momentum swings in games and series are dictated by what you do on the ice. The home crowd can be behind you and you need to use that to your advantage. They're great support for us and it's a tough building to play in as a visitor and we need to make sure that we make it that way."
If the Canadiens are successful in doing so, they will hold a 3-0 lead with a chance to sweep at home on Tuesday.
"We all know this is a special place to play in here in Montreal," Therrien said. "We've got tremendous fans and they're going to be there to support us, and I believe the players really compete from that. So tomorrow is going to be a special night I hope."
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