MONTREAL - Regardless of where the Canadiens are currently situated in the standings, there is still very much on the line for the players in the dressing room.
On Saturday night at the Bell Centre, the Rangers jumped out to an early lead thanks to J.T. Miller’s 21st goal of the season, but the Canadiens answered in kind with a first period marker of their own in the form of a laser of a wrist shot off the stick of Lars Eller.
However, if Saturday’s tilt against New York appeared to be a close contest, the second period would unfortunately prove otherwise for the Canadiens.
For just 1:32 into the second period, Hull, QC native Derick Brassard would put the Rangers back on top. And then, in the blink of an eye – or more accurately two minutes and 45 seconds – Chris Kreider chipped in with another two unanswered goals and suddenly the Rangers held a 4-1 lead.
“A guy like Chris Kreider is going to win every foot race you give him. But part of that is just knowing the players in the league and knowing who you are on the ice against. We just have to be a bit smarter and do a better job at recognizing which lines we are up against when we are on the ice,” began Max Pacioretty, whose 55 points in 76 games is good for the top spot on the Canadiens scoring list this season. “We made some good plays but it’s the costly mistakes that keep hurting us. We’ve been competitive in each game we play but NHL teams are just too good not to take advantage of mistakes.”
Although Phillip Danault’s late second-period goal momentarily breathed some life back into the Canadiens, Derek Stepan’s goal with just 41 seconds remaining would prove to be backbreaking. When the Habs returned to the ice for the third period, they had lost not only the momentum of the game but their starting goaltender as well, as rookie netminder Mike Condon was relieved by veteran Ben Scrivens to start the final frame.
“We’re all in this together. We support Mike [Condon], he obviously just wants to win just like we all do. He wants to play well but I think we all have a lot to prove. We gave up too many dangerous chances tonight. It’s on everybody,” expressed Pacioretty, who was quick to deflect any blame away from his netminder, while simultaneously pointing out that the Habs offense should have found a way to solve netminder Antti Raanta in the opposite goal.
“Raanta was good but given the amount of power plays we had we needed to find a way to score. I think we had a couple grade ‘A’ chances we just couldn’t get the puck to bounce our way. We have to execute better. Good players want to be difference makers. They want the puck on their stick. Getting scoring chances isn’t enough.”
With a three goal lead in hand, the Rangers didn’t look back from their offensive outburst in the second period, holding off a valiant Habs third period comeback to officially knock the Canadiens out of playoff contention.
“When you give a team like the Rangers that many scoring chances, it can be very hard to find a way to come back and win. If you allow five goals like we did tonight, that means you have to find a way to score six goals and that’s no easy task,” attested the Habs first goal scorer Lars Eller, who entered tonight’s affair with 11 goals and 11 assists to his credit. “We did not play a full sixty minutes tonight; it is as simple as that. There are stretches in the game where we do execute well but there are also times where we repeat mistakes. Against a team like the Red Wings or the Rangers, you have to compete for a full 60 minutes, you aren’t going to win by playing 40 minutes of good hockey.”
When asked whether it is tough for the players in the room to find the motivation to continue battling when the end-goal of reaching the playoffs is no longer possible, captain Pacioretty didn’t hesitate for a second.
“You can check every nameplate in this dressing room. Everyone here has something significant to play for. Whether that means a contract for next year, or trying to stay up with the big club, or trying to solidify your place in the lineup; if you are in the lineup right now you are probably getting your best shot at show what you’ve got,” confirmed the Canadiens captain, who is the only remaining player in the entire NHL to have recorded at least one shot on goal in every single game his team has played so far this season. “If you look back at the Anaheim game for example, you feel like sometimes playoff bound teams can take you lightly. The Rangers took us too lightly in the third period which gave us a chance to comeback, but I think at that point it was already too late.”
Likewise, Phillip Danault’s answer to the very same question left was given unequivocally.
“Are we excited for the season to end? That kind of sentence needs to be deleted from our vocabulary. This is our sport. In hockey it is normal to experience ups and downs. Our only focus should be on getting right back on the right track.”
Jared Ostroff is a writer for canadiens.com.
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