PITTSBURGH – The third period once again proved to be the Canadiens’ Achilles heel on Friday night.
The Habs were looking for a good start in Pittsburgh and that’s exactly what they got. Opening the scoring for the visitors just 34 seconds into the game, Lars Eller helped get his team off on the right foot before Erik Cole gave the Canadiens a 2-1 lead five minutes later.
Playing a near-textbook road game through the first 40 minutes, the Habs built up a comfortable 4-2 cushion heading into the final frame. Unfortunately for Randy Cunneyworth and his troops, that lead might have been a little bit too comfortable.
“Those were nice goals scored in those situations and we have to do a better job pressuring,” offered Cunneyworth after seeing his team skate away with a 5-4 shootout loss. “Sometimes it’s difficult. You want to not sit back but you find yourself doing exactly that. We have to continue to keep battling hard and work right to the end. It’s certainly a difficult thing to swallow but you have to just keep your chin up and keep working hard.”
Following Friday night’s game, the Canadiens are now 14-1-4 when leading after two periods. Still sitting 10 points out of eighth with just 35 games left to go, Mathieu Darche doesn’t need a calculator to realize how valuable those third period let downs could prove to be.
“When you’re behind 4-2 and you win it’s one thing but when you’re up 4-2 and you lose it hurts,” admitted Darche after the team’s seventh shootout loss of the campaign. “We got one point, but one point isn’t enough; we were controlling the game. That’s been the story all season. We let up a bit and took some penalties that gave them a bit of momentum.”
Just over halfway through the season and with plenty of hockey still to be played, Darche isn’t ready to throw in the towel on 2011-12 just yet.
“Mathematically it’s still possible [to make the playoffs] and we still believe,” confirmed the 35-year-old winger. “Sure, people say it’s never happened before where a team has come back from so far behind in a season with a double-digit gap, but there’s a first time for everything.
“We’re going to keep believing. We’ve been right there in every game,” he added. “We’ve been talking for two or three months about our execution and consistency and now it’s up to us to figure out how to do it and then go out and do it.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
The Numbers Game - Jan. 20, 2012
Unable to capitalize