BROSSARD – To clinch a spot in the playoffs, the Habs will need to play like the postseason starts in January.
It may only be January 4, but the Canadiens are already well aware how valuable every point will be come April. Instead of looking at the nine-point gap between his team and a playoff berth at the moment, recently re-signed blue-liner Josh Gorges prefers to look at each game on the schedule like it’s the most important of the year to date.
“I think it’s gotten to the point now where you have to look at it like today is our last day; we don’t have a tomorrow,” shared the 27-year-old assistant captain. “Every game now is like a Game 7 in the playoffs and we can’t afford to lose any more games. We know we’re not going to be perfect the rest of the way through – that’s impossible to even think of – but we have to focus on tonight and not worry about down the road and make sure we come out with everything we have.”
Every time the Habs arrive at the practice rink in Brossard, they’re greeted with a white board that serves as a glaring reminder of their current standing in the conference. Riding a 14-18-7 record into Wednesday’s game against the Jets, the Habs will need to start piling up points in a hurry to dig their way out of the 13th spot in the East.
“It’s tough when you come in and see that,” admitted Gorges. “At the same time, we can’t look at the big picture of things. We can’t look at where we are and how many games we have to win in order to get to the playoffs and all that kind of stuff. It’s hard not to do that because it’s right in front of you and you have to be blind not to see it; it’s right there. We have to do a job inside this room of staying focused on tonight and making sure we’re coming with our best effort.”
Head coach Randy Cunneyworth has been stressing the importance of playing with desperation from the opening puck drop through the final buzzer since taking the reins on December 17. Team Canada’s 6-5 loss to the Russians in the semifinals at the World Junior Hockey Championships on Tuesday night is the perfect example of what the Habs bench boss has been preaching.
“Obviously it’s disappointing to see they lost but you have to give credit for the ending for a team that didn’t quit. I went to bed at 5-1 thinking the game was out of reach,” explained Cunneyworth of Canada’s late-game rally. “That’s a good lesson for everyone. The team that stays with it and goes extra hard after it, I think can come very close. You can be very proud of that effort and it sends a great message.”
With just over half the season still to be played, there’s still time for the Habs to dig themselves out of the Eastern Conference cellar. According to Cunneyworth, making it into the Top 8 will take a playoff-like performance from every one of his players for the remaining 43 games.
“As the schedule dwindles, you run against the clock and you run against the number of games you have left. It’s important to continue in that same vein where getting everybody on board from this point on will be a necessity,” he explained. “I don’t think there’s a night where you can take a shift off.
“The desperation we showed last game with the goalie out trying to even the score is the kind of play we have to have throughout the night,” concluded Cunneyworth. “Don’t wait until the end; play hard from the beginning right until the end no matter what happens.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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