KANATA – The Canadiens are leaving Ottawa with a ticket to the second round and a few key lessons to help carry them even deeper.
Coming into Sunday’s game, momentum appeared to have swung in the Sens’ direction after they rallied back from a three-game series deficit to force a Game 6 on home ice. After failing to deliver the final blow to their opponents in Games 4 and 5, the Habs weren’t about to let a third opportunity pass them by.
“We definitely didn’t want to go back to our building,” admitted Max Pacioretty, who fired the insurance marker into an empty net with less than a second to go in the third period. “Going into these playoffs, we had that experience from last year where we were able to come back in a series against Boston and win it in Game 7 in one of the hardest buildings to play in. I think those kinds of experiences have added up over the years. I don’t think anyone’s ever won a Stanley Cup without facing some adversity in the playoffs. It happens to every team that moves forward. It’s the way you handle it that dictates the rest of your future.”
The tide turned early for the Canadiens in Game 6 when Brendan Gallagher swatted a puck out of the air to help the Habs open the scoring for the first time in the series, giving him his first of the postseason in the process. After needing 27 shots to solve Craig Anderson on Friday night, the Habs managed to find the back of the net 11 shots in on Sunday, getting on the board in the opening frame for the first time this spring.
“It’s so tightly played out there. When you play a team over and over again, you get to know each other so well so it becomes tougher and tougher to score goals,” described Gallagher, who was a regular guest in Anderson’s crease throughout the six-game series. “You need to get those bounces and you work for them. I don’t believe in luck; I believe you create your own luck. You just have to keep working and eventually it’ll go your way.”
Facing a squad that spent the second half of the year mounting an improbable comeback to clinch a spot in the postseason, the Habs knew better than to count the Sens out. It may be hard to feel comfortable nursing a one-goal lead for 46 minutes, but when you have Carey Price between the pipes, sometimes one goal is the only cushion you need.
“If you watched our team this year, I think that was pretty standard for us,” admitted Gallagher with a laugh, having watched Price kick aside all 43 Sens shots he faced to register his second career series-clinching shutout. “We get a goal and get up and we were able to lock it down. We would have liked to have been a little more aggressive at times in the game, but they came hard and they weren’t going to give up. We had our chances to make it 2-0 and their goalie played well, but obviously Pricer was unbelievable tonight. He competed like no one else.
“When you look at what he’s done for us all year, it was nothing new,” he added of the All-Star netminder, who set a new franchise record in 2014-15 with a 44-win campaign. “You don’t want to take it for granted, but you come to expect performances like that. Some of the saves he made were world class. Obviously he’s our best player, and he showed up tonight and he was our best player.”
From winning Olympic gold in Sochi to leading the league in almost every major goaltending category all season long, Price is no stranger to coming up big in big moments. A specialist when it comes to clutch performances, the 2015 Vezina Trophy finalist relished the opportunity to shut the door in the dying minutes of Sunday’s game with Anderson out for the extra attacker.SEE ALSOGame highlightsWords from the roomThe Numbers Game: Game #6 - April 26, 2015 Connect four
“That’s fun. That’s what it’s all about. Ever since you’re a little kid, you dream of being in those types of situations and tonight we found a way to succeed,” he described. “Tonight, we had a group of guys who were willing to do whatever it takes to win, and we did.”
Price may have been the picture of calm in the last minute of play, but not all of his teammates share his ability to close out a game quite so casually.
“It’s a lot easier when you’re on the ice. When you get a shift, you don’t feel anything, but when you’re sitting on the bench, you can’t help but stare up at the clock and watch the time tick down,” admitted Gallagher, who had four shots and finished with a plus-1 differential on Sunday night. “You feel like anyone else – you’re nervous, you’re anxious – but you just have to have trust in your teammates. I think we’ve been in that situation enough that we understand that we have the guys who are going to get the job done and once again they did that.”
While it may have taken a few more games than they would have liked to close out the series and move on to the next, the Habs know from experience that a little adversity never hurts a team’s playoff chances.
“I like the fact that we had to come in here and win the series. If we’re going to get to the Stanley Cup Finals, we’re going to have to go into tougher buildings and tougher situations and find ways to win,” underlined P.K. Subban, who assisted on Max Pacioretty’s empty net insurance marker in the dying seconds of the third period. “One thing I learned last year was I felt we got so emotionally hyped up in that Boston series that I think it’s important for us to control that and gauge how much energy we use.
“I’m happy we won the series, but this is not our end goal. This is one step,” he stressed. “It’s a step in the right direction, and now we’re going to get prepared for the next step.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
Price named Vezina Trophy finalist