- The Canadiens held an optional skate at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Thursday morning ahead of contesting Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Bruins at the Bell Centre. Assistant coaches Clement Jodoin, Gerard Gallant and J.J. Daigneault led the skate along with goaltending coach Stephane Waite.
- Twenty players took part in the practice session on Thursday, including forwards Daniel Briere, David Desharnais, Ryan White, Travis Moen, Michael Bournival, Rene Bourque, Brandon Prust, Thomas Vanek, George Parros and Ryan White. Defensemen Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Francis Bouillon, Jarred Tinordi, Douglas Murray and Mike Weaver were also on the ice, as was goaltender Peter Budaj.
- Hamilton Bulldogs defenseman Nathan Beaulieu participated in the morning skate, as did goaltender Dustin Tokarski.
- If the physicality meter tipped slightly in the Canadiens’ favor in Game 3, Michel Therrien’s troops fully expect the Bruins to come out swinging on Thursday night in an effort to tie the series at two games apiece.
“Upping our physicality was an important part of our game plan. It was our objective,” stressed Travis Moen, who played his second game in the series on Tuesday night. “I expect the Bruins to come out with the same intensity they always play with. They’re big and strong, and they put a lot of pucks on net. That’s the way they’ve always done things. We have to play 60 minutes if we want to win and we have to get off to a good start just like we have the last few games.”
For defenseman Josh Gorges, who saw fellow rearguards Alexei Emelin and Douglas Murray combine for 12 hits in Game 3, the series is becoming increasingly heated as it rolls on.
“I know they’ll want to open things up physically. Each game is a little more physical and a little more difficult than the last. We don’t expect anything different in Game 4,” offered Gorges, who was the Canadiens’ second-most utilized player on Tuesday night behind P.K. Subban. “Game 4 is big for both teams. We expect them to come out hard.”
- Head coach Michel Therrien mixed things up in Game 3, slotting Brendan Gallagher on a line with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty early in the opening frame in place of Thomas Vanek, who lined up alongside Tomas Plekanec and Michael Bournival on Tuesday night.
A workhorse in every sense of the word, Gallagher brings a new dimension to the Canadiens’ top line, one that demands that both Desharnais and Pacioretty make changes in their respective games as well.
“We have to work a little more with Brendan. He goes into the corners, so we have to support him some more,” offered Desharnais, who has one goal and three points in seven postseason tilts. “With Vanek, we’re more likely to focus on playmaking, but with Gally it’s more about keeping things simple. We’re making plays going to the net. It’s up to us to work harder with him.”
A fan of Gallagher’s grit at both ends of the rink, Desharnais insists both he and Pacioretty are up to the challenge of making the necessary modifications to ensure the line clicks against the Bruins come the start of Game 4.
“We have to support him in the corners. He works exceptionally hard,” explained Desharnais, who boasts one goal and five points in 17 career playoff games. “With Vanek, it’s about moving the puck and making small plays. With Brendan, it’s all about battling.”
- Alexei Emelin has been a thorn in the Bruins’ side in the first half of the series, dishing out 15 hits through three games. A force to be reckoned with in the physicality department, Emelin has steadily earned a great deal of respect from head coach Michel Therrien, who believes the three-year NHL veteran has been an impact player in his first postseason experience.
“He’s a very physical defenseman who plays with a lot of courage. He doesn’t pay attention to anyone he goes up against in the corners. He’s a player who brings a good physical presence on the back end. He’s been doing exceptional work,” praised Therrien, referencing the fact that Emelin currently sits tied for first on the team with 25 hits and leads the Canadiens with 27 blocked shots during the postseason.
“He’s someone who’s becoming increasingly comfortable with his teammates and coaches. That helps. It’s a completely normal process,” added Therrien. “I really like the way he’s been expressing himself on the ice.”
For his part, Emelin has thoroughly enjoyed taking part in a series against the archrival Bruins, one that has afforded him the opportunity to take on a player with whom he shares some rather poignant history in Milan Lucic.
“I don’t just play hard against Lucic. I play against every team and every player the same way,” confided Emelin, who, like the rest of his teammates expects the Bruins to try to set the tempo early on Thursday night. “We expect that, but I keep my focus on the game. I like the competition that comes with playing against the Bruins.”
- Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
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