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Focusing on themselves

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

TAMPA – There’s nothing the Canadiens would like more than to give the Lightning a taste of their own medicine on Monday night.

Having dropped all three meetings with their Atlantic Division rivals so far this season, Michel Therrien’s troops enter their penultimate regular season encounter with Jon Cooper’s contingent ready as ever to turn the tables on the top scoring squad in the League.

“I think we’ve just had a little bit too much respect for them. We’ve been on our heels and let them dictate the game. I don’t necessarily think that they’re faster or better than us, but they’ve outplayed us most of the time. We’ve let them take charge and we’ve been second on pucks,” offered Lars Eller, who boasts two goals and four points in his last four games. “It’s all about inches here and there. We’re not missing much from our side. It looks like a lot, especially when you see the results, too. We just need a little bit more from everybody.”

A carbon copy of the performance Eller & Co. managed to string together against the New York Islanders on Saturday night certainly wouldn’t hurt. The Canadiens displayed the compete level necessary to best one of League’s elite teams. They will undoubtedly have to do much of the same if they hope to hand the Lightning a loss on home ice.

“We know that it’s been a challenge against them this year. We obviously haven’t gotten the results we’ve wanted. After every game, we’ve been left feeling that we could’ve done more and that we could’ve been better. Hopefully, we leave the rink on Monday having no regrets and just executing,” stressed Brendan Gallagher, referencing the fact that the Lightning have outscored the Canadiens by a 12-3 margin during the 2014-15 campaign. “We thought we played a good game last game [in a 1-0 OT loss last week]. Hopefully that carries over, and we kind of get on a roll here and play the kind of hockey we’ve been accustomed to playing all year.”

That’s something David Desharnais expanded upon after the Canadiens wrapped up a Sunday afternoon practice session at Amalie Arena.

“We’ll have to play our style of game against the Lightning. We’ve given them a little bit too much space the last few times we’ve played them. They’re a good team. They’re good offensively. We’ll have to take advantage of their mistakes and be patient. But, we can’t open the game up too much and put Carey in trouble,” offered Desharnais, who ranks second on the Canadiens with a plus-21 differential alongside Gallagher, 18 points back of leader Max Pacioretty. “We’ll need our defensemen to jump in and support on offense, too. That’s something we’ve practiced after playing against Tampa Bay. Their defensemen do it well. When they do that, it gives them a second wave on offense. It worked well against the Islanders. It’s the new NHL, everyone skates and it makes a big difference when it comes to scoring goals.”

While some players believe Monday night’s tilt will serve as a statement game heading into the final dozen games of the regular season and beyond, Gallagher is still sticking by the one game at a time approach that has been the team’s catchphrase since last October.

“Going back to last year, we beat them once in the regular season. But, playoffs was a totally different story,” explained Gallagher, recalling the Canadiens’ four-game sweep of the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last April. “It’s just a matter of playing our best hockey this time of year. I think we’ve left the rink after playing them every time this year feeling like we could’ve done more. We’ve had enough of that. It’s time for us to focus on what we need to focus on, not worry about anything outside of our control, and just find a way to come away with points.”

In the end, that’s all that really matters.

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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