That is the credo Michel Therrien and the Canadiens are preaching heading into Game 4 of this second-round playoff series against the Bruins.
Staying focused on the moment — this kind of moment — can be easier said than done. The implications of this game are huge. If the Canadiens can win, they head back to Boston for Game 5 knowing they can close out this series and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals.
If they lose, a team that has shown tremendous tenacity in the face of adversity gets a huge momentum swing.
Clearly, the Canadiens' best-case scenario is playing Game 4 exactly the way they played Game 3.
“Yesterday, as a coaching staff, we worked on tape, we met our players this morning and we’re going to meet our players again before the game,” Therrien said after his team’s optional skate at the Bell Sports Complex on Thursday morning. “Our only focus — it’s not what happens in the first three games. It’s not looking at the end of the series. It’s about tonight.
“We’re going to want to make sure, as a group, we really focus, we play with courage and our focus is only about one game.”
For the Canadiens, the only way to get the result they want going into Game 5 is to maintain that tunnel vision through Game 4.
“I think every game is different — I think every guy forgets about the previous game, and you just got to move forward,” said defenseman Mike Weaver. “If you keep that in your mind -- a previous loss or previous win -- it kind of gets in the way of concentrating the current game.”
But this Montreal team knows full and well that it is going to see a huge push from the Bruins at the Bell Centre on Thursday night.
“I’m sure they’re going to want to come hard,” said defenseman Josh Gorges. “We know each game, it gets a little bit tougher, a little bit harder, and we expect nothing different here in Game 4. This is a crucial game for both teams, so we expect them to come out hard and we got to prepare for that.”
After their own optional skate on Thursday morning, the Bruins cited a need to return to Bruins-style hockey. As winger Reilly Smith said, “Last game, I don’t think we got into the forecheck enough, didn’t clog the neutral zone. If we can slow them down — they’re a quick team — it will be beneficial for us. We can get back to Bruins hockey and kind of meat-and-potatoes style.”
Boston, to some degree, was able to establish that physical, forechecking style of play in the third period of Tuesday’s game. This time around, with their backs almost against the wall, the Canadiens are prepared to see the Bruins bring that to the first and second periods as well.
“They’re big, strong, physical,” said forward Travis Moen. “They have guys who can put the puck in the net, kind of the same way they’ve been playing. It’s not easy, but we got to play a full 60 if we want to beat them, and obviously strong starts is what we’ve done the last couple games. We want to come up with another strong start.”
Last time out, Montreal capitalized on some early Boston mistakes in order to stake out to a 2-0 first-period lead. If the Bruins are able to forge the type of strong start they want to have in Game 4, the Canadiens are going to have to do more than sit back and wait, and they know that.
“We’ve always anticipated them being physical — that’s their type of game,” Weaver said. “They’re a team that comes full force at you, and they got some big bodies up front that we know they’re going to be finishing their checks.
“First couple of games, I thought us D sacrificed our bodies to make that first pass out of the zone, and we’re going to do it again.”
Added Gorges, “I think it’s always important. Your ability to get back, get on that puck quick first and get it out of your zone as quickly as possible is the key to any success. So we’re going to have to focus on it. We’re going to have to focus on it, get back quick, make smart decisions and be ready for a press from them.”
Additionally, the Canadiens will be focusing on clean breakouts and, as they said after Wednesday’s practice, being the team that applies the pressure rather than the team that has to respond to the pressure.
“Everybody hopes they have a great breakout every single time,” Weaver said. “The more time you play in the offensive zone, the better. I think they got areas of the game they got to work on, we got areas of the game we got to work on, so I think it’s — every game’s a unique game, and we’re going to move forward here and concentrate on just this one game.”
Earlier this week, Therrien also said that one thing he has liked most about this year’s team is their commitment, their buy-in to his system. The Canadiens know that part of that commitment entails committing to a full 60 minutes on Thursday before they even start thinking about what could be on Saturday.
“Obviously, you got to concentrate on this game, not looking to the next game,” Weaver said. “We got to concentrate on every shift, every faceoff, every puck battle. It comes down to not looking ahead and just concentrating on the moment in time.”
Continuing to Contain the Top Line
At Boston’s skate on Thursday, Head Coach Claude Julien shuffled his lines — to the extreme.
Is there a chance we’ll be seeing Gregory Campbell centering a line with Brad Marchand and Jarome Iginla on Thursday? Unlikely. The Canadiens are preparing to see similar lines to the ones they have seen through the first three games of this series, and one of those is Boston’s top line of Milan Lucic and Iginla centered by David Krejci.
That line has been snakebitten to the extreme during this series, but Montreal doesn’t expect that to last. Lucic and Iginla bring strength and physicality to the top line and Krejci brings skill, and it is a difficult trio to contend with on any given night.
Some of that line’s struggles have come down to bad luck — one can certainly recall the Iginla rocket that went off the top post at the tail end of Game 4 — but goaltender Carey Price has played a huge part in shutting down Boston’s top line as well.
“They’re a good line. They’re a line that is able to create plays. We’ve got to limit their chances and give all the support Pricer needs back there,” Weaver said.
Added Gorges, “They’ve had some chances, and Carey’s come up huge. So I think we need to be a little bit harder. We need to be smart when they’re on the ice. They create a lot off the rush. They’re a good line, so we got to make sure we’re making life difficult on them.”
Last time out, the Lucic-Krejci-Iginla line combined for a mere four shots. If the Canadiens are going to have success on Thursday, they know they’re going to have to limit them to similar totals once again in Game 4.
“We expect all their players to be playing at their best,” Gorges said. “We got to make sure we’re sharp. We got to make sure that no matter who’s on the ice, we’re playing a tight, checking game, we’re in their face and we don’t give them a lot of time and space.
“Good players are going to make good plays. They’re going to create things because that’s what good players do. But we have to make sure we make it as hard as possible on them.”
Among the Canadiens who took the option for Thursday's skate and stayed off the ice were P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, Brian Gionta, Brendan Gallagher, Dale Weise, Lars Eller and Carey Price.