BROSSARD – If the Canadiens are planning on extending their current winning streak to four straight games, they’re going to have to do it in a building that hasn’t been kind to them as of late.
Back on November 23, Michel Therrien’s troops lost their third straight game to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden dating back to last season’s Eastern Conference Finals series. The latest defeat in the Big Apple was particularly hard to swallow as the Canadiens dropped a 5-0 decision to the Blueshirts, while being outshot by a 34-21 margin along the way.
On Thursday night, however, the Habs fully intend on exorcising their MSG demons by sticking to what has worked for them all season long – matching their opponent’s strengths and keeping things as simple as possible from start to finish.
“It’s been a building that we haven’t had that much success in, so for us going there I think we’re going to be motivated. We went there earlier in the year, and things didn’t go very well. We didn’t put together a very good effort. We want to bounce back and improve on that. Certainly, when we go there we’ve got to have that mindset that it’s going to be a very challenging game,” offered Brendan Gallagher, who scored the game-winning goal in the Canadiens’ 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night in Montreal. “They play with speed. They make it tough on us. They pressure our D a lot, so as forwards we’ve got to help them out as much as we can. We’ve got to be prepared to play that fast-paced game. That’s the way we want to play.”
And, that’s the way they’ll have to play against the likes of Rangers forwards Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan, all of whom are capable of not only lighting the lamp, but creating one scoring opportunity after another, too.
“They’re a fast team. They play a lot like we do. They like to grind down teams and chip in pucks and play hard on the forecheck, so whenever we play teams similar to us, I think it’s always fun and it’s always a fast game,” mentioned Max Pacioretty, who has five goals and nine points in 19 regular season games against New York over the course of his NHL career. “We’ve got some motivation after putting up some poor performances in the playoffs there, so hopefully we can play well at MSG and feel good in that building as opposed to the way we did in in postseason.”
There’s no denying just how good the Rangers have been in recent weeks. Alain Vigneault’s contingent has lost just twice in the month of January and they’ve come out on the wrong side of the scoresheet just four times in their last 20 games, including Tuesday night’s 4-1 loss to the Eastern Conference-leading New York Islanders on Long Island.
“On Thursday night, we’re going up against one of the best teams in the NHL. They went to the Stanley Cup Finals last season. On Tuesday, they lost to the Islanders, but they still put up 40 shots on goal. They’re tough to play against and they’re playing good hockey,” explained Therrien, who has yet to decide whether or not call-up Gabriel Dumont will get his first taste of NHL action during the 2014-15 campaign against New York. “This is going to be a real challenge for us.”
Fortunately, the Canadiens aren’t making too much of the fact that they’ve struggled at the ‘World’s Most Famous Arena’ since last summer. In short, Thursday night’s game is just another opportunity to pick up an all-important two points in the standings, and stay on the winning track heading into a set of back-to-back games at home during Super Bowl Weekend.
“I know when we went into Philly earlier in the year and we won, that was the first time we’d won there in a really long time. I think teams just go on little runs and when it happens over and over again, it does become a bit of a mental battle and you start to think about it. But, for the most part, there’s really no logical explanation for it. It shouldn’t be any different for us,” concluded Gallagher, who has four points in his last five games. “It’s just another road building, so to go into New York, it’s just about executing a game plan. We know that they always do. They always play fast. We’ve got to be prepared to play that style of hockey.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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