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Halfway there

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Having never comeback from an 0-3 series deficit, the Habs had never forced a Game 6 under those circumstances either. Until Saturday.

Staving off elimination for a second game in a row to pull within a single win of a return trip home for a deciding Game 7, the Habs achieved the feat for the first time with the help of some first-timers of their own.

Heading into the contest with just three forwards in the lineup who had yet to find the back of the net this postseason, that number dropped to just one by the end of the night, as Devante Smith-Pelly and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau each scored their first playoff goals in a Canadiens uniform.

A pair of goals which also just happened to be their biggest in any uniform.

“I think any goal in the playoffs is pretty big, but to get one here at the Bell Centre felt really good. It’s definitely near the top of my list,” dished Smith-Pelly, who allowed the Canadiens to open the scoring for just the fourth time in 11 games this postseason, beating Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop with a bullet just 9:01 into the first. “I think it sent everybody a rush of adrenaline. Right after that goal we were all into it for the next couple of shifts, including the crowd. It was a pretty good boost for us.”

Indeed, Smith-Pelly’s marker even looked like it might hold up to be the game-winner, as the Habs played a near-perfect game – notably outshooting the Bolts for the fifth time in as many occasions –  until Lightning captain Steven Stamkos scored his second of the postseason at the midway mark of the third.

Fortunately, what could have been a dagger to the Canadiens’ postseason spirits wasn’t, and the man who had sealed victories in shootouts all season long when a point was on the line, sealed a win instead with the season on the line.

“We didn’t get discouraged. We could have, after dominating for most of the game and then allowing a late goal, but we didn’t,” described Parenteau, who made good on a perfect feed from P.K. Subban to put the game-winner behind Bishop. “Instead we picked up the pace and got lucky.”

Even the team’s goalscoring expert couldn’t help but be impressed by the effort.

“It’s awesome, I can’t even explain it. I hope they showed a replay of the bench because the boys were so fired up,” recalled Max Pacioretty, who leads the Habs with four playoff tallies. “P.-A.’s had a lot of chances as of late, so to see him get rewarded was nice. That was a great shot that's always going to go in 10 out of 10 times. He’s an important part of this team, and I was happy to see him get that break. Devo too, that was a great shot to open up the scoring and break the ice. It shows that anyone on this team can step up. It’s a great feeling.”

Stepping up is exactly what the Canadiens have been doing collectively this postseason, as 16 different players have combined to score the team’s 24 playoffs goals so far.

“We wanted to give everything we had to send the series back to Tampa,” continued Parenteau, who registered two shots over 13:26 of ice time. “We’re a good group of guys and I’m proud of the way we worked tonight. No one in this dressing room ever thought that we were a team that deserved to be down 0-3.”

And now they no longer are, down 2-3 instead, a situation which the Habs have already comeback from eight times in franchise history, including against Boston in 2014 most recently.

“This is a team that refuses to die. They battle hard, and there was no sense of panic, even when Tampa scored a goal – we got better when they scored that goal,” underlined head coach Michel Therrien following Saturday’s win – a night on which the Habs have lost just twice at home this season. “We want to put the pressure on Tampa. It’s not easy – we were there a couple weeks ago – having a three-game lead. The longer it takes you to get that fourth one, the more the pressure builds. Now we’re going to do everything we can to force a Game 7 at the Bell Centre.”

And in the meantime, who can say no to a trip to Florida, even if the warm weather has finally arrived in Montreal?

“It sounds cliché, but we love this group and we love spending time together,” concluded Pacioretty. “Now we get one more road trip together, and we’re not ready to call it a season just yet.”

Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com

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