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Righting the course

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
MONTREAL – Last March, a comeback game against the Senators proved to be a turning point in the Canadiens’ season. A year later, the Habs are looking to write a similar storyline.


After storming back and erasing a 4-1 deficit with less than four minutes to go to beat the Sens in overtime on March 16, 2014, many in the Canadiens’ dressing room credited that game with revealing character and laying the foundation for an eventual run to the Conference finals. While they may have been on the other side of a comeback story against the Sens on Thursday night, the Habs can use their 19th loss of the season to set a similar tone in 2015.

“We have to see this as kind of a wakeup call and realize that all these other teams are fighting for playoff spots and we can’t feel comfortable sitting where we are,” stressed Brandon Prust of his division-leading Habs. “We have to get it in our minds that we’re fighting for our lives, too.

“We’re far from playing our best hockey like we were a month ago and for most of the season,” he added, his team having posted a 1-3-2 record so far in the month of March. “We’re not there right now. We’ve played solid hockey and found ways to win and we just have to be better. We have a lot to accomplish still.”

With a chance to gain sole possession of first in the conference with a win over Ottawa, the Canadiens entered Thursday’s game with 91 points, just nine shy of last year’s 100-point haul with 16 games left to play. Less than seven minutes into the night, Max Pacioretty had already tipped a P.K. Subban blast past Andrew Hammond on the power play, and before the halfway mark in the opening frame he’d potted his 33rd goal of the year on a shorthanded breakaway.

The Sens responded with five unanswered goals over the next 49 minutes.

“They’re a team that’s battling to make the playoffs and battling for their lives every night and we have to match that intensity,” said Subban, who played a team-high 26:32 on Thursday night. “Every team goes through a time like this in the regular season. We’ve had a pretty good season to this point where we’ve played pretty consistently and right now, we’re having that dip.

“This is the time where we really have to stick together and stick to the game plan,” continued the 25-year-old alternate captain, who picked up his 50th point of the campaign with his assist on Pacioretty’s opening goal. “When you’re battling like this and things aren’t going your way, you just have to simplify everything and try to rely on your system. I’m not worried about our team. The guys in here are resilient and we’re going to come out ready to play the next one.”

Allowing five goals in a game for the first time since November 4, Carey Price is also looking forward to rebounding from Thursday’s performance as soon as possible. Having watched struggling teams come in hungry to clinch playoff berths, the 2014 Olympic gold medalist wouldn’t mind seeing a similar sense of urgency from the Canadiens in the 15 games remaining in the regular season.

“We’re not catching teams by surprise anymore. When you’re sitting at the top of the standings, other teams are prepared and [Ottawa] found a way to execute better,” explained Price, who leads the league in save percentage (.935), goals-against average (1.93) and wins (37). “We play desperate when we’re behind. When you’re looking to score and even it up, you’re digging a little bit deeper and we just have to find a way to do that off the start.”

While some outside the team’s dressing room may be frantically searching for the panic button after seeing the Canadiens drop Thursday’s lopsided decision, Price was characteristically calm about his team’s tough start to the month. Asked if he was concerned after seeing the Habs lose five of the last six games, he was pretty clear about where he ranks on the anxiety meter.

“We’re not, no,” he replied, before being asked to elaborate on his reasoning. “Because we’re sitting at the top of the standings.”

Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.


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