MONTREAL -- It is a mantra repeated in locker rooms around the NHL throughout the season. Whether a team has won three straight games or lost five in a row, every team is always trying to find the same equilibrium, and they all use the same terms to describe it.
Never too high. Never too low.
The Montreal Canadiens entered the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers coming off a massive high, beating the archrival Boston Bruins in their building in Game 7 to earn the right to play the game they played Saturday afternoon.
The Canadiens, it would appear, were a little too high.
The Rangers were the sharper team right from the drop of the puck and were rewarded for it in a 7-2 blowout win in Game 1 of the series at Bell Centre, stealing the home-ice advantage from the Canadiens.
"You never want to lose a game, but it's going to bring us back to earth," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "We, as a group, have to be ready to compete and play every night if we want to have a chance to win.
"So we put that game behind us, we've got to move forward, but that's a good lesson."
A team that is among the final four remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs probably shouldn't need to learn that lesson, not at this stage, not when the stakes are so high. Canadiens players openly admitted they simply were not ready to play. But the reasons given were varied.
Much was made about the need for Montreal to maintain its level of emotion coming off the series against Boston. However, defenseman P.K. Subban said he did not see that as a reason his team came out so flat.
"I know that everybody's going to talk about that," Subban said, "but we're professionals, we don't see it that way."
Except his teammates did, in fact, see it that way.
"The rivalry is maybe not as big as Boston," center David Desharnais said. "Now it's on, I guess."
Forward Rene Bourque said, "I think we had a bit of emotional letdown after the Boston series. We talked about that going into the game. Obviously it didn't click."
The Canadiens were asked about the threat of that emotional letdown after practice Friday, and they acknowledged they were aware of it and needed to guard against it.
The Rangers came into Game 1 of the series on an emotional high as well, coming back from 3-1 down to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in their building in Game 7. However, New York showed no signs of a letdown.
So maybe in this instance it was a convenient excuse for the Canadiens to say they had trouble maintaining their intensity, that the Rangers didn't stoke their fire enough.
Bourque, whose fingerprints were all over this game with three minor penalties and the goal that made it a 2-1 at 12:38 of the second, was far more blunt in describing how the Canadiens played when he wasn't trying to find an excuse for it.
"We got our [butts] kicked all over the ice," Bourque said.
"That was our worst game of the playoffs by far," he added. "That wasn't even close. They just beat us everywhere on the ice, every zone, and we took too many penalties. Obviously, I took a couple bad ones in the first [period]. We just never got rolling. We just weren't sharp and weren't ready to play. We'll be ready Monday night (for Game 2, 8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS)."
The fact is, none of the Canadiens know exactly why they didn't compete with the Rangers in Game 1, and at this point it doesn't matter.
Bourque and Desharnais appeared bothered by Montreal's performance; Subban didn't. That's not to say Subban was pleased with the performance, he just didn't appear to be taking it very seriously.
Subban was comfortable in the knowledge the Canadiens made mistakes they normally don't make, took penalties they normally don't take, and showed an uncharacteristic lack of focus and energy.
The Canadiens face their biggest game of the season in Game 2, when they will try to avoid having to go to Madison Square Garden in New York down 2-0 in the best-of-7 series.
"That's not our hockey team that played today," Subban said. "We know we're a different team than that and we can be a lot better."
Never too high. Never too low.
The Canadiens were way too high, now they need to guard against being too low. Adopting the attitude of their top skater in these playoffs would probably help them do that.
"These things happen," Subban said. "They happen in the playoffs."
They can't let them happen again.
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