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Canadiens Focus on Commitment, Energy Ahead of Game 4

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins — Going into Game 3 of this second-round playoff series, both teams had the same goal: Play their game. Impose their will. Stay disciplined. Win the battle.

One team got the job done, and one team will head into Game 4 with an opportunity to take a 3-1 lead in this series.

The Montreal Canadiens executed their game plan to near perfection on Tuesday night. They sustained Boston’s early pressure. They kept their composure. They capitalized on the Bruins’ early mistakes and made it a 2-0 game before the first intermission.They rode the home crowd’s energy to a 3-0 lead — which they would not relinquish — midway through the second period. Playing with the lead, they were able to sit back and wait for the Bruins to make mistakes.

And most importantly, they did the one thing they couldn’t do in Games 1 and 2 of this series: They withstood a furious push from Boston in the final period. With three minutes left in the second, Boston narrowed the deficit to 3-1 with a Patrice Bergeron deflection off a Torey Krug strike, and in the third, the Bruins played their best period of the game — by a long shot — creating chance after chance and finally striking with 2:16 remaining in regulation, with their net empty and the extra attacker on.

But that was as far as the comeback bid went, and the Canadiens — finally — could breathe a sigh of relief.

“They always bring it,” said defenseman Mike Weaver following the Canadiens’ practice at the Bell Sports Complex on Wednesday afternoon. “That’s Boston. That’s why they’ve won a few Cups there, and they’re a hard-nosed team. They built their team around strength and finishing checks and skill, and I think for us, we just got to worry about our game and focus on the little things we do and what we’ve been working on.”

Mission accomplished for the Habs on Tuesday.

They got scoring from the usual suspects — Tomas Plekanec, P.K. Subban — but they also saw big contributions from Weaver and fourth-liner Dale Weise, both of whom were late acquisitions this year. Weise’s second-period breakaway goal proved to be the game-winner, and Weaver started the play with a critical blocked shot in the defensive zone.

“I think playoffs are different, obviously — everybody blocks shots in the regular season, but in the playoffs, you’re really more throwing everything out there,” Weaver said. “I don’t think it’s anything different. I just think everybody’s giving into the moment.

“That’s what we get paid for. We get paid for sacrificing our bodies, and some other [pairings], they have other different things that go on, and ours is to get bruises and lose our teeth.”

Weise, who played 17 games with the Canadiens during the regular season and tallied just four points, now has four points in seven games this postseason. To hear him tell it, he’s just playing the role he has been assigned — just like everyone else on his roster.

“The biggest thing I’ve noticed is guys just embrace their role,” he said. “I’m more than happy to go out and take every defensive draw that we have to, and if I don’t get one offensive draw in a night, I’m happy to just play defense and be physical and wear other teams down. That’s so huge — guys embrace their roles right now.”

Canadiens Head Coach Michel Therrien said the depth provided by late acquisitions like Weise and Weaver is what has set his team apart this postseason.

“We’re proud of the depth of this hockey team,” he said. “They fit well. The team chemistry of that group — it’s phenomenal, and … they buy in about the way we play and are doing a fantastic job. That’s important, to get depth and to get good people and to get good athletes.”

And as Daniel Briere said, you can’t rely on your top guys to do everything for your team in the playoffs. You need everyone to contribute in order to play well into the spring.

“We all know [that to] move up in the playoffs, you need contributions from everyone, up and down the lineup,” he said. “It’s been different guys at different times, and it’s fun to see.”

Lineup Changes Pay Off

Following a 5-3 loss to the Bruins in Game 2, Therrien tinkered with his lineup, and by all indications, his changes paid off.

For Game 3, defenseman Doug Murray replaced Francis Bouillon and was paired with Weaver. Therrien also went with Travis Moen — playing for the first time since suffering a concussion versus the Bruins in late March — over an ailing Brandon Prust.

The lines looked different than they did in Game 2 as well: Therrien swapped Brendan Gallagher and Thomas Vanek. Vanek assisted on Plekanec’s first-period goal, and Gallagher held his own on the top line alongside David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty.

“We like the way he competes,” Therrien said of Gallagher. “We like the way he plays and he brings energy with any line. We’re going to put him out there, and I know during the course of the season, Gallagher played with Desharneis and Pacioretty, and they were playing really well.

“From a coaching standpoint, at times, you have to react and make adjustments, and this is the only thing that we did — we made adjustments. And I like Gallagher’s intensity. I like that line. I thought they provoked a lot of good things. They were skating, they were playing well, they were playing the right way, and I liked the combination of all our lines.”

Gallagher’s strong play wasn’t lost on veteran Briere.

“The way he moves, the way he works, the way he battles along the boards and in front of the net — you know what you’re going to get from him,” Briere said. “It’s a very simple game, but a tough one to play, mentally and physically. But he keeps it simple. I think that’s why he’s having success with a lot of different players.”

Therrien also commended Vanek’s play on the second line alongside Plekanec and Michael Bournival. Vanek found Plekanec — facing a wide-open left side of the net — with a perfect cross-crease pass that opened the scoring on Tuesday.

“Everyone’s got responsibility to do the right thing offensively, to do the right thing when we have the puck, and make sure you’re in good position when you don’t have the puck,” Therrien said. “This is something we preach a lot with our team. I’m not afraid to put a lot of guys out there with top players — they’re responsible, and I thought Thomas did a fantastic job to play with Plekanec and Bournival.

"Not only that he did a good job defensively — he made a hell of a play on that first goal, and we wanted to make sure that we got balance on every line. We talked last night that we got that balance.”

Anticipating a Hot Start

Now that the final horn has sounded on Game 3, it is behind the Canadiens. No longer reveling in the glory of taking a 2-1 lead in the series, they are looking ahead to Game 4 and are expecting the Bruins to come out desperate at the Bell Center on Thursday night.

“Every shot on net is an opportunity to score,” Weaver said. “We just got to limit that.”

The Canadiens have certainly done that thus far. They blocked 29 shots on Tuesday night, leaving the Bruins frustrated and hapless.

“Obviously, [limiting] time and space is one of the many things that we’re trying to accomplish,” Weaver said. “But they’re a tough team. They came back again in the third. They play the same way as they did in the third period in the first shift of the game, so it does wear down on teams.”

Clogging up the lanes has been a colossal part of the Canadiens’ game through the first three games of this series, and the Bruins have noticed.

“They’re doing a good job — tip your hat to them,” Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said on Wednesday. “They’re doing a great job of blocking shots, being in front of the net, so what to do? We got to figure out a way. Probably not going to give you the X’s and O’s, but we’re going to have to figure out a way to get there.”

Though the Canadiens have led for the vast, vast majority of this series thus far, they know that can change on a dime and are approaching Game 4 with the same mentality they took into Game 3. They are looking for team-wide focus, energy, and above all else, commitment.

“Playoffs is always a challenge,” Therrien said. “I like the commitment from everyone on our team. For me, it’s the commitment from everyone. It’s the challenge, and since Day 1, we got that business attitude, and it all starts from there — with the attitude and the commitment.”

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