BROSSARD – Two desperate teams battling to make the playoffs will find themselves in a dogfight Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.
The Habs may have just downed a Red Wings squad sitting comfortably at the summit of the NHL, but now they’ll have to contend with a team just as desperate as they are when the struggling Sabres visit the Bell Centre. While the Canadiens sit two points ahead of the 14th place Sabres in the Eastern Conference rankings, the hometown heroes will have their work cut out against a Buffalo team that’s had their number so far in 2011-12.
“We expect them to be at their absolute best tonight. We know they’ve been struggling as of late, but they’re in a fight for this just like we are. They’re going to play desperate, play hard, and use their assets,” expressed Josh Gorges of the type of game fans can expect in the Northeast Division battle. “We have to do the same, except we have to be even more desperate and hungry than they are.
“This is a team that has guys that can create. If you look at some of their offensive players – you give them any kind of room and they’re going to make plays. Again, we have to be smart,” continued Gorges who along with the rest of the Habs was frustrated by Buffalo on two occasions, out-shooting them 41-23 for a 3-1 loss on Oct. 18 and then giving up a two-goal lead to fall in a shootout on Nov. 14. “If they’re going to play a sit-back defensive game, we have to be ready to get pucks behind them. If they come out attacking, we have to make sure we have guys ready to backcheck hard.”
With a win Tuesday night, the Canadiens would capitalize on a chance to put some distance between themselves and a team chasing them in the standings, instead of only moving closer to the ones they’re hoping to catch.
“The points that you can get from the intra-division games are always incredibly important ones,” mentioned Lars Eller. “For us, we’ll try to have the same approach no matter what team we’re playing, but we obviously know that Buffalo is in a position of desperation just like us.
“Of course we’d like to play like we did against Detroit for 82 games every season, but that’s just not always possible,” added the young Dane who’s seen his role and responsibilities expand and evolve since the teams’ last meeting. “You can’t be at your absolute best for every game you play, but we’re trying. What we can make sure of is that we’re mentally prepared to take up the challenge tonight.”
Ready to face the Sabers for the first time in 2011-12 as head coach of the Canadiens, Randy Cunneyworth has no intention of underestimating his team’s latest adversary.
“The Sabres are a team that has underachieved so far, but we know they’re a good team and a team we definitely want to keep behind us. Our first two games against them were very close and we expect the same thing tonight,” pointed out the Habs’ bench boss who will be doing all he can to make sure the same determination that buoyed his team in their last two games will be back in force Tuesday night.
“We need a sense of urgency to go with every part of our game and every responsibility we have. I think the guys are very focused right now – as they should be – and things seem a little different at this time then maybe they were in the past,” finished Cunneyworth. “Now we have to go out there and prove that this demeanor means something.”
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.
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