Ramsay: Canadiens' defense must stay aggressive
Ramsay played in more than 1,000 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres before going on to coach the Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Atlanta Thrashers. In the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he led the Flyers to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final. Ramsay most recently was an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers.
Aggressive pinches from the point and defenseman joining the rush are necessities for the Montreal Canadiens if they want to force a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final, longtime NHL coach and player Craig Ramsay said.
The New York Rangers lead the best-of-7 series 3-2. Game 6 is Thursday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"It's harder to [be aggressive] on the road sometimes because you get a little nervous about it, but I still think they can do it," Ramsay told NHL.com. "Their guys can do it."
Ramsay said he thought the Canadiens' defensemen, particularly Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban, were effective when they pinched in Game 5. He thought their pinches put pressure on the Rangers and gave Montreal more offensive options.
Markov had three assists. Subban had an assist and was plus-3 with four shots on goal. The Canadiens won 7-4.
"Markov reads plays well and when he pinches, he usually does it very effectively because he knows he's got to go in there and play the puck," Ramsay said. "I saw Subban just kind of sitting on somebody. He wasn't trying to run over somebody. It was a smart pinch, he was in early and he was in on top. You don't have to run guys over when you pinch. You have to play the puck."
Ramsay also said the Canadiens' forwards did a good job in tracking back when the defenseman pinched so Montreal didn't get burned with an inordinate amount of outnumbered rushes.
He liked Montreal's game when the Canadiens played with a high forward in the zone. That allowed their defensemen to pinch without fear of what can happen behind them. It also pulled the Rangers away from the net and opened up space in the slot area.
"When Montreal gets that high forward the Rangers have to react to that," Ramsay said. "They have to react out and away from the net. Their 'D' have to step out away from the net. That opens up the blue line, the point guys. But that slot coverage is vital. When Montreal started running a three- man high offense it was effective."
The key for the Canadiens is to keep playing as aggressively and smart in Game 6. Montreal has shown throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs that it is at its best when attacking and taking some risks. No need to stop now.
"You want to make sure you're not playing safe just because there were a bunch of goals scored [in Game 5]," Ramsay said. "I think you still have to be aggressive in the offensive zone, you have to be solid in the neutral zone and looking for turnovers, and you have to have your 'D' joining rushes. It'll be those three things. Just don't be slow.
"Sometimes when you look at it you're saying, 'They're fast,' but it can be more about playing quick, which is getting the puck, moving it up and attacking," he continued. "You can look fast but in essence what you're doing is just playing quick. Move the puck quick and attack up ice. I think they played quicker [in Game 5] and that makes them look faster."
As for the Rangers, Ramsay said their hurdle heading into Game 6 is as much mental as it is physical.
"I know the Rangers are good, but they have to be thinking that they have to be really good because they can't let this one slip," Ramsay said. "They don't want to go to Montreal and play Game 7 in that building having just given up seven goals in the building with that atmosphere. So the pressure is on them. There's no question the pressure is on them. They gave up seven goals in Montreal, and they do not want to go back there. That's pressure on their whole team."
Even more pressure if the Canadiens are attacking with aggressive pinches and defensemen joining the rush.
-- Dan Rosen
Montreal coach Michel Therrien is enjoying Bourque's recent results, and he's not concerned about explaining how the left wing's startlingly increased production has come about.
"Before solving Bourque's mystery, I'll let him play a bit more because he's on a roll," Therrien said Wednesday after the Canadiens held an optional practice at their suburban practice facility.
Bourque scored twice Tuesday to complete a hat trick after Montreal blew a 4-1 lead against the New York Rangers. The Canadiens won 7-4 in Game 5 at Bell Centre to stave off elimination for the third time in the playoffs. Montreal trails the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Final 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Thursday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
Bourque, who was given a cross-checking major and a game misconduct at the end of the game, is tied for second in the NHL with a team-leading eight goals in 16 playoff games. He also has three assists for 11 points. The 32-year-old had nine goals and 16 points in 63 games during the regular season.
"Even through the end of the regular season we saw Rene get engaged in the game a lot more, moving his feet, being physical, going hard to the net," Therrien said. "He was doing a lot of good things. You can't expect a player to score three goals every night, or to score every game, but even if Rene doesn't score he's playing solid hockey. He's getting involved physically and definitely, and [in Game 5] for me that was leadership.
"It was a huge game for us and he came up big, and that's good not only for him but for us, and I really appreciate his effort [Tuesday]."
The play of left wing Alex Galchenyuk also has been a boost for the Canadiens. The 20-year-old has two goals and one assist in four games since returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for six weeks, including the first two rounds of the playoffs and the series opener against the Rangers.
"He's going to the dirty areas, and that's where you need to go if you want to score," Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges said. "Ninety percent of the goals are scored right in front of the net, in the crease. They're not going to be cheap goals, but he's had some success because he's been able to go there."
Therrien said Galchenyuk has gotten better with every game, and center Lars Eller said he is impressed that Galchenyuk has come back so strong.
"I think better than anybody expected him to because he was out for quite a time," Eller said. "He's done everything we could ask from him. He's playing well. He's filling out his role being an important player for us. So we hopefully will see the same from him going forward."
Therrien confirmed forward Brandon Prust will be in the lineup Thursday for Game 6 at Madison Square Garden. Prust served a two-game suspension for his late hit on former teammate Derek Stepan in Game 3. Defenseman Alexei Emelin missed Game 5 because of an undisclosed injury. He will accompany the team to New York.
Therrien also had no update on the health of forward Dale Weise, who left the game for a short time in the third period after being hit in the head by Rangers defenseman John Moore at 10:31 of the third period. Weise went to the locker room for a little while but returned later in the period.
Moore was assessed a match penalty for the hit at 10:31 of the third period and suspended two games following a hearing Wednesday with the NHL Department of Player Safety.
Injured goalie Carey Price was on the ice in full equipment for a second straight day. He worked out with goalie coach Stephane Waite as he continued to work his way back from an apparent right knee injury sustained in Game 1 of the series. However, Therrien has said that Price will not return in the series.