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It's Character Time for Canadiens

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — If there is one person who can perfectly articulate the Canadiens’ sentiment at the moment, it’s goaltender Carey Price:

“You back any animal into a corner, it’s going to be desperate," he said. "I think we’re going to be a desperate hockey club coming into next game, and I think we’re excited for the challenge.”

The Canadiens have no choice but to be excited for the challenge that awaits them at the Bell Centre on Monday night. After suffering a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Bruins in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Saturday night, they have to win if they want to keep their season alive.

The Montreal team that showed up for Game 5 at TD Garden was drastically different from the one that showed up for the first four games of this series. In the first four games, the Canadiens got out to strong starts. They won battles. They capitalized on the power play and shut it down on the penalty kill. They put the Bruins into holes that were often too hard to climb out of.

On Saturday night, the Canadiens got off to a poor start. They lost bottles and let the Bruins impose their trademark physicality for a full 60 minutes. They were unable to strike early on the power play, and their penalty kill was victimized for the first time this series -- and then again 32 seconds later.

And for the first time this postseason, the Canadiens fell behind in a series.

“We couldn’t really establish much right from the get go,” said forward Brian Gionta. “We were chasing the puck, we didn’t transition very well.  They brought the play to us for most of the game.”

Now, only one choice remains: Win, or go home.

“You get back to ‘no tomorrow,’” said defenseman Josh Gorges. “Like we said this whole time through, it’s one day at a time, and the biggest thing is when we get ready for Game 6, we don’t focus on trying to win two games. You can’t win two games on Monday; you can only try to win one. Then, if we do that, we’ll worry about what comes after that. But we’ll make sure we correct things that we need to correct and we’ll come in to play.”

First on the docket is getting off to a good start. The Canadiens let the Bruins strike first on Saturday — on a Carl Soderberg shot from the left circle that dribbled past Price — but they’ve done that before in this series, and before, they were able to rebound.

Not this time. The Canadiens put themselves in a 3-0 hole before two minutes had expired in the second period. Tomas Plekanec committed a goaltender interference penalty with time expiring in the first period, and he watched from the box as Reilly Smith redirected Dougie Hamilton’s rocket from the slot just 1:04 into the next frame.

Thirty-two seconds later — and shorthanded again, courtesy of yet another Plekanec penalty —the Canadiens put themselves in a 3-0 hole when Torey Krug sent a highlight reel backhand pass to a wide-open Jarome Iginla, who was waiting right in front of the net.

“I think pucks were bouncing a little bit and maybe not going our way, and we were fighting it a little bit,” Gorges said. “But like I said, that’s going to happen some nights. Some games are just going to be that way, and you’ve just got to be resilient. I think, like I said earlier the problem was the start of the second penalty kill — we didn’t get the job done.”

Ergo, second on the docket is correcting the penalty kill, which was impenetrable throughout the first four games of this series, denying the Bruins on eight straight opportunities.

“I thought we were intense when we started the game, but their power play gave them a lot of momentum and confidence,” said Canadiens Head Coach Michel Therrien. “That’s the way I see it.”

The Canadiens fought. They went into the second intermission with momentum after Brendan Gallagher finally broke through with about five minutes remaining in the second, planting himself in front of the net on a Habs power play and deflecting a Plekanec shot into the net. They scored again on the man advantage with 2:29 left in regulation on a wicked P.K. Subban slapshot that went right over Tuukka Rask’s head.

But by then, the hole was too deep. Boston had made it 4-1 with just under six minutes remaining in the game, when Game 4 hero Matt Fraser held the puck in the right circle and, with no one open, threw it on net. Loui Eriksson dumped in the rebound. By the time Subban struck, it was virtually too late.

Now, the Canadiens have no choice but to forget about this one and start thinking about the next one, which can't come soon enough.

“You know, sometimes, things don’t go the way you planned,” Gorges said. “You know, when you compete and you work — unfortunately, tonight didn’t go the way we wanted. We can’t change it now. I think we know what we have in this room. We know what our team is made of. We know that if we play a good, hard game, we give ourselves a chance to win.

“We’ve beat this team twice already. It’s not impossible. It’s going to take everything we got. It’s going to take a complete team effort.”

This is the time of year when a team’s character is tested. This is the time when a team has to dig deep and find its identity. This — when a team is firmly backed up against a wall, when it has no choice but to win or go home — is the time when we will find out who the 2013-14 Montreal Canadiens truly are.

“We’ve been a team that’s regrouped all year,” Gorges said. “We’ve had ups, we’ve had downs, and you never get too high and you never get too low. It’s one-day-at-a-time, business mentality, and [Sunday], I’m sure we’ll get together, we’ll talk about what we need to be better and when it comes time for a Game 6, let’s face it — we don’t have another leg to stand on.

“When you get backed into a corner like that, you’ve got no where else to go. You have no choice but to come out and give everything you got, so we’ll be ready to do that for Game 6.”

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