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Time to step up

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

TAMPA – When you’re in tough like the Canadiens are right now, it’s nice to be able to draw on experience to help ease things along.

Down two games to none in their Eastern Conference Semi-Finals series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Michel Therrien’s troops are seemingly facing a must-win situation in a building that has been anything but hospitable to visiting teams all year long. Fortunately, the Canadiens boast plenty of players who’ve already faced the daunting task of trying to turn a playoff series around when the odds appeared to be completely stacked against them.

“Anything is possible for us right now. There are many examples of teams that led a series 2-0, but failed to advance to the next round. In 1993, the Canadiens came back against the Nordiques. In 2006, the Canadiens led the Hurricanes 2-0, but lost in six games before Carolina went on to win the Stanley Cup,” offered Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, who was a member of the Colorado Avalanche squad in 2014 that pushed their opening-round series against the Minnesota Wild to seven games after dropping the first two contests on home ice. “We’re not dead. We’re definitely having trouble scoring right now, but we’re playing well 5-on-5. You have to build on that. You need to approach things like it’s a Game 7 situation.”

Like Parenteau, Devante Smith-Pelly knows a thing or two about rallying under pressure. While plying his trade in Southern California last season, the 22-year-old helped the Anaheim Ducks draw even with the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings in Round 2 after coming up short in both Game 1 and Game 2 at the Honda Center. The Scarborough, ON native certainly hasn’t forgotten a host of lessons learned during the memorable seven-game set.

“What we’re experiencing here is similar to what I experienced last year. We deserved to win the first game this time around, and it didn’t turn out that way. The second game just was what it was. I don’t think our confidence is down. We’ve done a lot more good things than bad. As long as we just stick to the plan, maybe get one extra bounce, the series can turn around quickly,” explained Smith-Pelly, who has two assists and a team-leading 35 hits in eight playoff games in 2015. “It always helps when you’ve been through it. Obviously, it’s a different situation, but we were down 2-0 like we are now. I’m not going to be in the room telling guys what to do, but at the same time I go out there and I know how to do my job personally and how to help the team.”

For his part, Max Pacioretty experienced the inevitable trials and tribulations of trying to turn the tables on a playoff opponent as recently as last season, as the Canadiens went down two games to love to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Like Parenteau’s Avs and Smith-Pelly’s Ducks, the Habs were sent packing and failed to advance. But, the Canadiens’ top sniper is adamant the takeaways from playoff series like that one will prove invaluable in situations like these.

“We can learn a lot from that experience of going down 2-0 in our building. Yes, we made it a series, but we weren’t able to come back and win it at the end of the day. We’ve got to remember that feeling and what it took to win Game 3 and what we didn’t do right to win Game 4,” explained Pacioretty, who has one goal in the series against the Lightning. “That experience all comes into play now when we’re looking at this series as a whole. There are times to think about it like tonight, but once we wake up on Wednesday it’s all about worrying about that first shift and that first period. Nothing else.”

Following Tuesday afternoon’s on-ice session at Amalie Arena, Pacioretty also stressed the need for every single player to rise to the occasion and seize the moment in Game 3. After all, if the Canadiens are going to make this a real series, winning in the Sunshine State for the first time all year is the one and only option.

“We’ve got 25 leaders on this team. It’s up to every single person on this team, whether you’re 19 years old or 35 years old, to be a leader. That’s what we’re asking from everyone,” concluded Pacioretty. “Don’t worry about the end result. Don’t worry about winning the series. Worry about winning your battles. Worry about winning each shift. That goes to winning periods, and hopefully at the end of the day that gives us the outcome that we want.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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