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Watching and waiting

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – It’s safe to say the Canadiens will be paying close attention to their flat screens on Wednesday night.

With the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Detroit Red Wings set to contest Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series at Amalie Arena, Michel Therrien’s troops will finally learn who they will play in Round 2 of the playoffs.

“We’ll all be watching to see who we’re playing. It’ll be a pretty exciting time. I haven’t heard too many different preferences, so we’re just excited to see the result, I guess,” offered Max Pacioretty, who hit the ice alongside the rest of his teammates on Wednesday morning at the Bell Sports Complex on the South Shore. “Detroit’s got a ton of experience, obviously, with guys like Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Kronwall. A lot of those guys have had a lot of success in the playoffs. You don’t see them getting nervous too often. In a Game 7 situation, it’s very important to have that type of experience. But, Tampa’s dangerous. They’ve got so much skill, both on the back end and up front. I think their depth up front is what’s most impressive. They’re able to get offensive contributions from their whole lineup. That’s a dangerous recipe in the playoffs as well. Both opponents are pretty good teams.”

That’s for sure. While Jon Cooper’s contingent boasted the most potent offense in the NHL during the regular season, Mike Babcock’s squad is a perennial player performer. In other words, the Canadiens are in for a tough test regardless of which team comes out on top in the Sunshine State.

With that in mind, general Marc Bergevin addressed members of the media on Wednesday afternoon to offer up his thoughts on a number of subject areas, including his team’s postseason efforts through Round 1.

“What really stands out about the series we just wrapped up is that we just beat the hottest team in the League coming into the playoffs. Based on the six games we just played against them, they were a good team. We beat an excellent team, a team that was down 3-0 in the series, but didn’t give up,” mentioned Bergevin, whose club will open their Eastern Conference Semi-Finals series on Friday night at the Bell Centre. “We showed a lot of character. I’m sure that other teams didn’t want to go up against the Senators in the first round. For our part, different players stood up at different times to help us win games.”

That being said, Bergevin, like his players, insists there’s room for improvement across the board, particularly when it comes to lighting the lamp. The Canadiens scored just 12 goals in six games against the Senators, matching a team record for the lowest number of tallies in a playoff series spanning six games. They also went 1-for-20 with the man advantage, which simply isn’t good enough this time of year.

“Our special teams could be better. The coaches have been spending a lot of time on it with meetings and video,” confided Bergevin. “I don’t have a magic wand to tell me the reasons why things aren’t working. When you look at Tampa, they were the most offensive team in the regular season, but they’re having trouble scoring in the playoffs. Things are different in the playoffs. What we can do is continue working on things and trying things out. You have to adjust. It’s a part of our work.”

Despite their struggles on offense, however, Bergevin is by no means disappointed in how the Canadiens have gone about their business on defense. Aside from a lacklustre effort in that department in Game 5, the Habs didn’t give the Senators much to work with, either. Defense, Bergevin believes, is the true key to success come springtime. Having a world-class netminder between the pipes like Carey Price does wonders in high-stakes hockey, too.

“Are we lacking offense? I’m pretty firm on that subject. My philosophy is that you’re going to win and you’re going to go far in the playoffs with good defense. I’m not going to change my mind about something like that. On the other hand, we would definitely like to improve offensively, but not if our defensive system has to suffer. There’s proof out there that good defense is responsible for a team’s success, and in the playoffs it’s even more important.” stressed Bergevin. “We’re looking ahead to improve on offense, but in hockey nothing’s a given. Would I sacrifice a player like Carey Price for a 50-goal scorer? Never. That will never happen.”

With the start of Round 2 just a few days away, the focus now is on getting right back into the playoff groove. That shouldn’t be too hard given what both potential opponents bring to the table. Needless to say, the Canadiens realize a significant challenge is on the horizon.

“[The fatigue factor for Tampa Bay and Detroit] makes sense when you talk about it and when you look at the circumstances, but at the end of the day it’s the playoffs and you find whatever gas you have left in the tank to give it 100 percent,” concluded Pacioretty. “It’s easy to say that whatever team we play is going to be tired, but they’re going to come out Game 1, whoever it is, and they’re going to show their best. We’ve got to just worry about our own game.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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