Through the first four games of this second-round series, both teams are dead even. They have each won two games, one at home and one on the road.
Now, it’s a best of three, and winner takes all.
“We’re excited about the challenge,” said defenseman Josh Gorges following Montreal's morning skate at TD Garden on Saturday. “We know its best of 3, and all that matters to us is tonight. This is a fun time of year to be playing, and this series has been a lot of fun because it’s two good teams. The games have always been close, and so we’re excited. We’re ready, and we’re going to have a good game tonight.”
Before each game of this series, both teams have stuck to the same credo: The last game doesn’t matter. All that matters is the next one.
That being said, the Bruins have to be riding some positivity, returning to their home rink after taking a 1-0 overtime win at the Bell Centre on Thursday. Goaltending has been the key throughout much of this series, and on Thursday, Tuukka Rask was perfect, stopping all 33 of the Canadiens' shots.
That night, a Canadiens offense that rolled through the first three games of this series was stymied, and the difference in the game ended up being one puck that took a fortuitous bounce toward Boston’s Matt Fraser and past Carey Price.
But that was last game. On Saturday, it’s a new game and, for all intents and purposes, a new series.
“At this time of year, any loss feels the same, whether it’s a blowout 6-0 or an overtime [1-0] loss,” Gorges said. “It’s still the same, so you move on you put it behind you and you get ready to go the next day.”
One thing this Montreal team has never lacked is confidence. It is confident in its game plan, in its players and in its ability to rebound, even in a hostile road rink.
As forward Brendan Gallagher said, the Canadiens view Game 5 as an opportunity.
“I think we’re exactly where we want to be,” he said. “It’s a best of 3 series now, and this game is going to be so important for both teams — either we go home up or down. So you definitely want to be up in this series and go in with that — one game away from potentially winning it.
“That’s all that we have on our mind, is take care of tonight. And after that, you can worry about all the other stuff.”
Top Line Woes
One thing the Canadiens and the Bruins have in common in this series is that their top lines have been snakebitten throughout the first four games.
Boston’s top trio of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla has struggled to put the puck in the back of the net, and similarly, Max Pacioretty’s line has been unable to produce.
Much of the onus to get the job done has fallen onto Pacioretty’s shoulders. The 25-year-old winger led the Canadiens during the regular season with 60 points and 39 goals — nearly 20 more goals than Tomas Plekanec, who finished second on the team.
The postseason, however, has been a different story. Pacioretty has just one goal and two assists in eight goal playoff games and has yet to register a goal in this series. His only point came in a 5-3 loss in Game 2.
Pacioretty knows he needs to produce, but matching up against Boston’s top defensive pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dougie Hamilton is making things difficult.
“He’s tough to play against,” Pacioretty said of Chara. “He’s physical, long reach, great defensively, and obviously, he’s gotten the better of me thus far in this series. I got to find a way to make up for it and find a way to score goals.”
Heading into a pivotal Game 5, there would be no better time for Pacioretty to rediscover his scoring touch and light the lamp.
“Goal scorers — they put a lot of pressure on themselves, and he’s got to make sure that he’s focusing on the positive and making sure he’s got a good attitude,” said Canadiens Head Coach Michel Therrien. “So eventually this is going to turn around and hopefully it’s going to be tonight because when this guy starts to get hot, he’s getting really hot.
“This is what he’s been doing in the course of the season, and we’re counting on him. He’s a big part of the team’s success, and this is center stage for guys like that tonight to bring their A-game.”
Therrien has had to achieve a delicate balance this postseason. He wants Pacioretty to know he has to be better, but he doesn’t want to create a situation where the pressure to score has been amplified to an unmanageable level.
“We communicate a lot with our players — not only Max, but lots of guys, and we like to communicate whenever it’s that time,” Therrien said. “We like to communicate with our players and I think they need to feel our support, and we like to send different voices at times. But we understand that guys like Pacioretty that care a lot about his teammates and his team. Obviously he’s got to keep fighting and keep playing with emotion and he’s going to do that, he’s going to be able to maintain that — we know eventually with the talent that he’s got.
“Keep working at that and focusing on those details. We know he’s going to have more scoring chances, and with a skilled player like that, the more scoring chances he will get, you know eventually the puck will get to the net.”
Therrien hasn’t been shy about shuffling his lines during this series. For Game 3, he shifted top-line winger Tomas Vanek to the second line and flipped Brendan Gallagher up to the top line to play with Pacioretty and David Deharnais.
The move paid off in Game 3: Vanek scored the first goal of the game, and the Canadiens won 4-2.
Pacioretty understands that lineup changes will be made, and he is on board with anything that helps his team generate momentum — and, of course, scoring chances.
“It’s the playoffs,” he said. “You got to do whatever it takes to win. [Therrien] thought that was the best move, and at the end of the day, we just got to worry about what, as players, we can control — going out there and playing hard and doing what we can to win, and obviously the move paid off that first game with the new lines. We played a really good game.”
Happy with the Officiating
Through the first two games of this series, there were 22 minors called. In the next two games, there were just five.
Does that favor the Bruins, given how strong they are at full strength and how dangerous the Canadiens have proven to be on the power play in this series? No, said the Canadiens. They would rather not hear the whistles. They just want to play.
“We both won one game in the last two games where there wasn’t many penalties called, and I think last game could have went either way, having it be 0-0 [in regulation],” Gorges said. “So we don’t mind that. We know that this is a tough group to play against five-on-five, but we got to go out there and do our job.”
In Game 4 at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens received just one power play opportunity, when Matt Bartkowski was whistled for holding midway through the second period. They were unable to convert, but they’re not relying on the man advantage to win games for them. They are confident that they can hang with the Bruins five-on-five.
In Games 1 and 2, it seemed like everything was being called. In Games 3 and 4, it seemed like nothing was being called. What gives?
“It’s playoff hockey, so you expect that,” Gallagher said. “That’s kind of how you expect it to go. It’s just a little different looking from game to game, and you have to understand the way the officiating’s being called, but you figure that out early. You figure out if they’re going to let you play or if it’s going to be a tight-called game, so you kind of adjust and get a good read first 10 minutes of the game.”
Gorges said that it’s not as though the referees are missing penalties. It’s just that they’re letting both teams play, and he appreciates that.
“As players, we want to just go out there and play and not have it dictated by the refs calling penalties or anything like that,” he said. “So I don’t think they’re not calling penalties; they’re just letting us play good playoff hockey.”