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Finishing moves

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

SAINT JOVITE – The Sens will be packing their bags one way or another after Wednesday’s game. The Habs intend on making sure it’s not for a return trip to Montreal.

The Canadiens may hold a 3-0 series lead over the Senators, but Ottawa has proven resilient under pressure in 2015, bouncing back from a 14-point deficit in mid-February and going 23-4-4 down the stretch to clinch one of the East’s two wildcard spots. But the regular season and playoffs are two very different beasts, and the Habs have the history to prove it.

Having taken a 3-0 series lead 35 times in franchise history, Montreal has gone on to win every one of those match ups, eventually winning the best-of-7 series all 35 times. Moreover, only four NHL teams have ever rallied back from a three-game hole – five in all of North American pro sports – and the Senators have never been able to overcome even a two-game playoff deficit in franchise history.

Although the past may be rosy, the Habs know they’ll still have their work cut out for them in the very near future.

“On Wednesday, we want to score first for the first time in this series. We’re expecting them to come out strong, and we need to play a better first period,” stressed Torrey Mitchell, who is tied for first among Habs point-getters so far this postseason with a goal and two assists. “The fourth game is always the most difficult to win. We’re not looking any further than Wednesday because there’s still work to be done. We’re taking things one game at a time, and focusing on Game 4. Obviously lengthy breaks during the playoffs are a big advantage, but we’re not going to win every game. We’re expecting a tough outing in Ottawa.”

Fortunately, the Habs also have more recent experience to bank on, after finishing off the Tampa Bay Lightning in an identical situation one year ago to the day, sweeping the 2014 Eastern quarterfinal series to kick off a lengthy playoff run.

“We need to be a little more prepared. We know that we can all play better than we did on Sunday. We need to be hungrier from the start,” acknowledged Lars Eller, who went 40 percent in the faceoff circle during Game 3 after boasting a 60 percent success rate on his draws in Game 2. “I’ve always found the fourth win to be the toughest to get, and I’m not expecting things to be any easier on Wednesday. It would be a big mistake on our part to think anything has been won yet. We want to finish them off as quickly as possible.”

Facing a team that has played best when its back has been against the wall this season, the Habs know the importance of closing out the series as soon as possible – and not just for the extra rest that comes with it.

“We want to finish them because we want to finish them. We don’t want to give them any life,” concluded Brandon Prust, prior to boarding a bus bound for the nation’s capital following a two-day retreat in the Mont-Tremblant region. “The break would be nice and important, but we’re not thinking about the next round. We’re thinking of finishing this one. We’ll just stick with our game plan and stay patient – the next game is as important as any of them.”

Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com

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