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As focused as ever

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – Given the Senators’ penchant for defying the odds, Michel Therrien’s troops aren’t about to let their collective guard down as the series shifts to the nation’s capital.

Despite leading their first-round series 2-0 over Ottawa, the Canadiens made it clear on Saturday afternoon at the Bell Sports Complex that taking anything for granted against Dave Cameron’s contingent would be a major – and potentially costly – mistake. The Canadian Tire Centre certainly wasn’t kind to the CH during the regular season, as the Habs dropped both of their games down Highway 417 by a combined score of 8-3. Having been outplayed in both of those outings, Therrien & Co. fully expect the Senators to be extra sharp on home ice this time around, especially with so much on the line.

“This team that we’re playing is used to being the underdog. They’re going to feel a lot more comfortable now with the expectations against them. They’re going to go into their building and they know they can take two there. It’s a tough place for us to play. I’ve also found it difficult for our team to find success there. We have to try and build off last game and try to be even better,” offered Max Pacioretty, referencing the Canadiens’ 2-5-2 record in their last nine visits to Ottawa dating back to the 2012-13 campaign. “Their team is going to play their best and their goalie is going to play his best. We have to worry about our game and play our best, too.”

That’s for sure. Over the course of their outstanding run to the postseason, the Senators managed to register 12 wins in their last 17 home games dating back to February 12, so they clearly haven’t been cutting their opponents any slack as of late in their own barn. Now, with the stakes raised even higher, the Canadiens know exactly what awaits them come Game 3 on Sunday night.

“I expect them to come out with a lot of energy. Obviously, with it being the first home game, it’s going to be pretty loud and pretty hostile for us. They’re down two games, so there’s going to be a little desperation for sure,” explained Devante Smith-Pelly, who along with Jeff Petry and Alexei Emelin, boasts a team-leading nine hits through the first two games of the series. “They’ve been playing must-win hockey for two or three months now. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if Game 3 is their best game of the series.”

Given Senators goaltender Andrew Hammond’s struggles through the first two contests, the question now is whether or not the Canadiens will have to prepare themselves to go up against the likes of Craig Anderson. The Senators’ bench boss hasn’t yet decided which goaltender will get the start, but it really doesn’t change anything in terms of the Habs’ approach to the upcoming contest.

“Goaltending is definitely a strong part of their depth. They’ve had three good goalies there the past couple of years [including Robin Lehner]. It doesn’t matter who is in net. I think all of their goalies have had success recently. I think going forward we just have to worry about our own game. We can’t change anything,” stressed Pacioretty, who led the Canadiens with four goals and six points against the Senators during the 2014-15 regular season campaign. “Their goalie played great last night. No matter who is in net for Game 3, you know they’re going to play their best. We always have to assume that and just focus on our game.”

That focus and concentration will undoubtedly be put to the test on Sunday night, but Pacioretty insists that a sense of complacency hasn’t crept in to anyone’s mind at this point in time. The Canadiens are doing everything possible to ensure it never does.

“The leadership group came together to make sure that that’s not the case. We’ve been in this position before. As a core group, I think we’ve played a lot of playoff series up until now to know that the hardest games to win are the ones that are later on in the series,” mentioned Pacioretty, who scored his first goal of the postseason in his return to active duty on Friday night. “I think [the Senators] are going to be comfortable down 2-0. That’s the way they’ve played, everyone against them the last two months of the season. We’ve got to find ways to close out games as the series goes on.”

So, how do the Canadiens plan to go about their business in the next installment of this highly entertaining rivalry?

“We’re still taking things one game at a time. That’s been our philosophy since the beginning of training camp. We know it’s going to be a good hockey game for both teams. Both teams are going to compete hard,” offered Therrien, who clearly has a great deal of respect for the Senators’ relentlessness and persistence. “They’ve shown a lot of character and courage all season long, especially at the end. We don’t expect them to let up at all. We fully expect them to play a solid game.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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