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Struggling in the Midwest

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
CHICAGO – It wasn’t an easy weekend for the Canadiens.

After going all-out against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night and dropping a heartbreaker in OT, Michel Therrien’s troops were forced to battle a Chicago Blackhawks squad that had rattled off 10 straight wins dating back to their last defeat on Dec. 27. Needless to say, Sunday night’s tilt at the United Center was going to be a tough test for a hockey club trying to find its way out of a slump that has been going on for weeks.

Even though the Canadiens surrendered the game’s opening goal to Blackhawks winger Richard Panik at the 2:40 mark of the opening frame, they answered right back with a goal of their own just three-and-a-half minutes later. Lars Eller lit the lamp to snap an 18-game goalless drought, tying things up at one goal apiece.

Unfortunately, Joel Quenneville’s squad took control of the game from there on out, led by the likes of captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. There was little the Canadiens could do when those three were firing on all cylinders, as they paced the Blackhawks to a 5-2 win and their 11th consecutive victory. The CH, meanwhile, is winless in their last four games.

“Obviously, we knew it was going to be a challenge. It’s never easy coming into this building, especially with them having the confidence they have right now,” offered Brendan Gallagher, who picked up his 13th assist of the year on Sunday night. “You’ve got to play a near-perfect game to beat them. We weren’t at that level. They outplayed us. They deserved to win.”

Like Gallagher, captain Max Pacioretty was equally disappointed with the way things played out during the team’s lone regular season visit to Illinois. Coming off the remarkable effort a night earlier, he was hoping the Canadiens could right the ship with a big win over the defending Stanley Cup champions.

“It wasn’t the performance we were looking for after such a hard-fought, emotional game on Saturday night. There were some times in the game where I felt like we weren’t at our best and we were second on the puck, and there were some times in the game where we had a lot of pressure on the puck. We felt we played an unbelievable game a night earlier and fell just a little bit short. I felt coming into the game that we wanted to prove that it wasn’t a fluke,” admitted Pacioretty, who registered his 19th goal of the season, and chipped in with four of the Canadiens’ 29 shots on Sunday night. “I think there were too many times during the game where we gave them a little bit too much time and space. I think with their skill up front, you have to take that away.”

When the Canadiens did manage to close the gap to 3-2 midway through the third period on Pacioretty’s goal, the Blackhawks answered right back with a goal of their own just 71 seconds later to seemingly put the game out of reach. Scoring goals – and then getting scored on quickly after the fact – was a problem on two occasions in St. Louis, and history repeated itself in that regard once again 24 hours later.

“It’s a key [to avoid that]. It’s a key to win games. Those details are big. We’ve got to concentrate on the next shift after a goal. When you score or get one against, you’ve got to focus, you’ve got to play the same way,” mentioned Tomas Plekanec, who failed to register a point for just the second time in his last five games on Sunday night. “It looks like we’re having trouble with that, too, getting scored on in the first couple of minutes of the first period. We have to change that, which isn’t easy.”

While nothing has been going their way as of late, the Canadiens are adamant that they’ll find a way to overcome the adversity that has been plaguing them since early December. It’s proving to be an uphill battle, but Therrien’s charges remain as committed as ever to getting back on track as soon as possible.

“We’re all pros. We understand that when things aren’t going right, people are going to ask questions. But, it’s important for us to stick together as a team. That’s what we’re talking about. We’re going to get out of this. It’s taking longer than we would have liked, but we’re going to get out of this,” stressed Gallagher. “The only way we’re going to do that is by sticking together as a group. Tonight, we weren’t good enough. Next game, we have to be better.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for

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