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Canadiens focused on keeping third-period leads

by Arpon Basu

The Montreal Canadiens are trying their best to have a selective memory.

The Canadiens had a day off Sunday after blowing a 3-1 third-period lead in the final 10 minutes of regulation to lose Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Boston Bruins 5-3 on Saturday.

The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1 and shifts to Montreal for Game 3 on Tuesday at Bell Centre (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

Coach Michel Therrien and defenseman Josh Gorges chatted with reporters on a conference call Sunday and both preached the message that the past is behind them. The only thing they want to remember about the Canadiens' trip to Boston is that they came back with the series tied.

"We've got to live in the moment and take each day as it comes," Gorges said. "You look at the last two games and you can analyze them all you want, but the only thing that matters is that we're tied 1-1 with them."

Therrien shares that view, focusing on his team's ability to jump out to a two-goal lead in each game rather than focus on how the Canadiens blew each of those leads.

"It's definitely disappointing to have let that game slip away, but we have to look at the big picture," Therrien said. "We came out of Boston with the series tied and we're back in Montreal. If we would have said that at the beginning of the series we would have been very satisfied.

"I'm approaching this with a lot of confidence, to be honest. We managed to take the lead. Boston showed a lot of character to come back in both games, but we still took that lead."

The way the first two games of the series have gone, the Canadiens might want to build a bigger lead through 40 minutes.

In the first two periods of Games 1 and 2 combined, the Canadiens have outscored the Bruins 4-1 despite being outshot 48-38. In the two third periods, the Bruins hold a 7-2 edge in goals and a 23-13 advantage in shots on goal.

Something has been happening during the second intermission to give the Bruins an edge and it should come as no surprise.

During the regular season, the Bruins led the NHL by a very wide margin with 104 third-period goals; the second-highest total was 90 by the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers. The Bruins also tied for the fewest third-period goals allowed with 56. Boston's plus-48 goal differential in the third was nearly double that of the St. Louis Blues, who ranked second in the NHL at plus-25.

The Canadiens were not a horrible third-period team in the regular season by any stretch at plus-3 (73 goals for, 70 allowed), but Montreal has looked overwhelmed by Boston during the final 20 minutes of regulation.

"The biggest thing for us is to not stop playing our game," Gorges said. "We can't sit back and try to protect a lead. We have to keep pushing forward and be aggressive and keep playing our game."

Therrien rightfully points out that in the first half of the third period of Game 2 the Canadiens were playing sound hockey, allowing the Bruins to fire one shot at goaltender Carey Price and successfully neutralizing their attack.

But then the floodgates opened when Dougie Hamilton scored on Boston's second shot of the period. After that, Patrice Bergeron tied the game on the Bruins' fifth shot of the third and Reilly Smith scored the game-winner on their seventh of the period.

Six shots, three goals, Bruins win.

Price mentioned after Game 2 that he felt the Bruins got lucky, with Bergeron's goal in particular taking a fortuitous bounce off the leg of Canadiens defenseman Francis Bouillon. Even the game-winner came on a pass by Torey Krug that bounced off Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher's stick and right to Smith, who had an open net to shoot at.

A day later, Therrien felt his goaltender might have been on to something.

"If you analyze the third period in the first 10 minutes, they only had one shot on goal, so I don't think we were a team that was sitting on a lead," Therrien said. "We were putting a lot of pressure on the puck carrier and we were in complete control.

"You need breaks to win games, and when you look at Bergeron's goal the puck took a bad bounce in front and went over the shoulder of Price."

Teams do need breaks to win, but they often create their own breaks by possessing the puck in the offensive zone. The Bruins have done that in dominant fashion, taking 62.8 percent of the shot attempts at 5-on-5 through two games.

If the Canadiens want to get some breaks they will need to bring that number down closer to 50 percent. Therrien will have the advantage of the final change at Bell Centre, allowing him to better tailor his matchups; that should help rectify that possession disparity somewhat.

"The biggest thing is being aggressive on that puck," Gorges said. "If we can be first on that puck and move it in the other direction and play down in their end a little more, I think it will stop them from playing as much in our end."

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