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Standing up for Max

Claude Julien and the rest of the Canadiens aren't about to let Max Pacioretty take heat for his playoff scoring woes

by Matt Cudzinowski @canadiensmtl /

BROSSARD - Max Pacioretty's lack of offensive production isn't cause for concern right now. That's the consensus among his teammates and head coach alike.

On Wednesday afternoon, those who spend their fair share of time with the Canadiens captain all season long were quick to come to his defense after the New York Rangers held him off the scoresheet for the third time through four games of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, which is currently tied at two games apiece.

"People are criticizing his game, but he hasn't been bad at all. He's doing things that sometimes hockey people don't notice. It's easy to write about it and make fun of him or say things, but he does a lot of things that people don't recognize. There's no panic in his game," said Nathan Beaulieu, who was one of several players to address Pacioretty's struggles to put up numbers early on this postseason. "If he isn't scoring goals, he's going to be harder on himself. He's the first guy trying to find ways to fix it. We're extremely confident in him and we expect big things from him moving forward."

That shouldn't surprise anyone given that the 28-year-old winger is coming off his fourth consecutive 30-goal regular-season campaign and fifth of his career. Despite leading the Canadiens with 19 shots so far this series and being their most-utilized forward, though, Pacioretty hasn't found a way to solve goaltender Henrik Lundqvist just yet. In fact, he's been limited to just a single assist, chipping in with the primary helper on Alexander Radulov's OT winner in Game 2.

Video: NYR@MTL, Gm2: Radulov stuffs home OT winner

Keeping the Canadiens' No. 67 at bay has obviously been a focal point for the Rangers, which is something his colleagues recognized from the moment the first-round series began.

"That's a great hockey team over there. They have great D and a great goalie. Teams game plan to shut down the top players," said Paul Byron, who put up a career-high 22 goals during the regular season, but has been held to just a single tally heading into Game 5 on Thursday night at the Bell Centre. "We're not relying on Max to be our savior. It's a team effort and all 20 guys need to contribute."

That's something Claude Julien's troops reiterated time and again on Wednesday, emphasizing the need for each and every one of them to step up and find ways to contribute to the cause when others might be stymied by the Rangers' defensive systems. Relying on Pacioretty alone to light the lamp and come up big simply isn't a recipe for success.

"[Max] can't put himself in that type of pressure. We're all in this together. Guys like Torrey Mitchell stepping up and scoring big goals [in Game 4], you've seen it throughout the playoffs already of how many unlikely heroes have already scored big-time goals. It's because of the pressure the top guys are under to try and perform," explained Steve Ott, who boasts 59 games of playoff experience with three different NHL clubs. "It's a team game out there. He's obviously a strong shooter, and when he gets a chance, I'm sure he's going to bury some. In the meantime, all of us, collectively, have to raise our game."

Video: Steve Ott on Max Pacioretty

Byron made that particular point abundantly clear as well with so much at stake in the next installment of the series, which has come down to a best-of-three.

"I think you see year after year the teams that have success are the ones where the depth guys come in and start scoring because it's easy to shut a line down and get the favorable matchups," mentioned Byron. "I think what makes our team so good is having that depth. I think we have three great scoring lines, and our fourth line chipped in again with a huge goal. They're able to bring that to our team, so we believe in everybody in this dressing room."

Like the rest of his charges, Julien is convinced that Pacioretty will ultimately find a way to get back on track in the scoring department, even if the Rangers haven't given him much time and space to work with so far by design.

"Everyone would like to see him score. I think he'd like to see himself score. But, at this time of year, what matters most is the team. It's important for him to stay focused on what he has to do. He's a guy who can explode and score at any moment, so it's up to him to stay positive and not let the outside noise bother him," said the Canadiens' bench boss. "We're very happy to have him. He's a good player and he'll continue to be a good player."

Video: Claude Julien's press conference

So, will the nine-year NHL veteran break out in Game 5? That remains to be seen, but Beaulieu wouldn't be shocked if he did. 

"When we're in New York, they've got the last change, so they're going to have their top guys playing against him every shift. Hopefully, coming back to the city will open things up for him a little bit more," said the 24-year-old defenseman. "He's still confident. He's still playing good hockey. It's just watch one go in, and you'll see Max take off to another level, for sure."

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