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Canadiens focus on winning the first one

by Shawn P. Roarke
MONTREAL -- With all margin for error now removed, Montreal knows it will have to be perfect for however much longer its Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the top-seeded Boston Bruins lasts.

After Monday's debilitating 4-2 loss in Game 3, the Canadiens face elimination in Wednesday's Game 4 at the Bell Centre. If they somehow survive that, the same harsh reality will face them Saturday for Game 5 back in Boston. Survive both of those do-or-die games and Montreal is still only halfway to the comeback.

Those long odds are the reason that only two teams in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs have ever come back from a three-games-to-none deficit. The Toronto Maple Leafs did it in 1942 and the New York Islanders bucked the odds in 1975.

Can Montreal become the third team to do so?

It appears unlikely after Boston withstood Montreal's best shot in Monday's Game 3 at the Bell Centre, but the Canadiens say they still believe.

"It's not over, that's the only thing we can think about," said forward Chris Higgins, whose first-period goal gave Montreal its first lead of the series. "You have to win four games for a reason, so we're still playing hockey."

And as long as the Canadiens are able to jump over the boards and take another shift, they will believe they can get back into this series by winning each and every individual battle they face.

"Everything's possible," Montreal captain Saku Koivu said. "(It's a) long way and a lot of work ahead of us. We can't look too far ahead. We can't think about what is going to happen in a Game 5 or a Game 6. We don't have a choice. It's a pretty simple game plan. We have to win from now on and we have to start on Wednesday."

But how does Montreal do that?

In the first three games of this series, the Canadiens have been outclassed by a much deeper and more talented team, a team that finished 23 points ahead of them in the standings and dominated the regular-season series between the two teams

"It's critical for our team to forget everything that has happened and get ready for the fourth game," Koivu said.

Well, there certainly is a lot of bad stuff to purge from the team's memory bank.

First and foremost, Boston has outscored Montreal 13-5 in the three games and the Canadiens have held the lead for all of 6 minutes and 43 seconds out of the 180 minutes of game play.

To make matters worse, Montreal's lineup is in disarray. Because of injuries and ineffectiveness, they have iced a different lineup every game. Monday, the team was missing both Mathieu Schneider, the quarterback on the power play, and Alex Tanguay, a highly-skilled forward. Both were ruled out by injuries just before the game.

"At that point, you have to keep focus on the game," Koivu said. "You are hoping that team is healthy and you get everything going at the right time. We're facing some adversity in that sense right now, but we don't have a choice, we can't worry about it right now."

Well, then, maybe they can worry about their power play. It has only six opportunities in the three games and has yet to convert. On a third-period power-play opportunity Monday night with Montreal trailing by a goal, the Canadiens managed just one shot.

"It's just frustrating," Higgins said. "When we wanted to push the hardest, they played their best defensively. Give them credit for the way they played in the third period.

Boston held Montreal to just five shots in the third period Monday night and goalie Tim Thomas has faced just 84 shots so far in the series.

But, as Koivu insists, none of that matters now for his team. All that matters is the next shift.

"We are being tested right now," he said. "It's up to us to regroup and get back and be ready for Game 4. You can't quit at this point, I think it is up to every individual to make sure that they prepare themselves for the battle on Wednesday.

"We know the odds are against us, but the only thing in our mind is we can win one game at home on Wednesday and take it from there."

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