MONTREAL - The Montreal Canadiens are winning again, and they don't really care why.
A 4-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was the third straight for Montreal, leading to a sense of guarded relief surrounding the Canadiens, who have climbed to within three points of a wild card spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
"We can't look too [far] ahead," coach Michel Therrien said after the victory. "We're focusing on one game at a time. We still understand where we're at, still understand that there's going to be a lot of hockey to be played and we need some wins, we need to pick up some points."
Through much of their 5-20-1 slide from Dec. 3 to Feb. 3, the Canadiens actually were accomplishing one of the big offseason goals they set for themselves. Management and the coaching staff decided over the summer that Montreal should become a better possession team, and that's exactly what it did.
The end goal there was to lessen the reliance on the backbone of the team, goaltender Carey Price. So when Price was injured on Nov. 25, the Canadiens felt prepared to handle it.
Then, it all fell apart.
Montreal was doing what it set out to do, dominating teams on a nightly basis through the month of December, but losing. The Canadiens generated an average of 32.3 shots on goal per game from Dec. 3-30 and gave up 25.5 against, but scored half as many goals as they allowed.
Over the past three games, Montreal has scored 10 goals, as many as it scored in its previous five games combined, and allowed four while being outshot 98-87.
Video: TBL@MTL: Gallagher opens up the scoring for Canadiens
"Pucks are going in for us right now, but I think it's important to understand why it's happening," said forward Brendan Gallagher, who has scored two goals in three games. "I think when we're having success we're playing down low in their end, making their [defense] work, and I think it wears on teams over time."
Sounds like a good explanation, one that harkens back to the Canadiens' offseason emphasis on improved possession.
Except Gallagher's coach and several of his teammates found a much simpler reason, one that resonates so often in hockey circles and is difficult to fully explain, underlying the somewhat random nature of the game.
"You need some breaks in hockey, whether you like it or not. [Devante] Smith-Pelly's goal was a good example of that," Therrien said. "You need breaks in hockey, and the breaks were on our side [Tuesday]."
Smith-Pelly scored in the final seconds of the second period to give the Canadiens a 3-1 lead when a slow backhand by P.K. Subban hit his skate and went in. It could be argued the break was created by Subban when he spun so quickly in the corner it made Lightning forward Alex Killorn fall, creating the space he needed to get a shot off, but the goal still was the result of a good bounce.
The Canadiens weren't getting many of them for two months. They are now.
"I definitely think bounces are always cyclical," said goaltender Ben Scrivens, who pointed out two shots that hit the goal post behind him against the Lightning could have changed the game. "You have some go for you and some go against you. But it seemed like we had a dry spell for seemingly forever. So it's nice to see our hard work get rewarded, and it's paying dividends."
Scrivens deflected the credit anyone wanted to give him for the Canadiens' win streak, but Therrien did not. Over the course of the slump, Therrien sometimes pointed to goaltending after a loss even though his team regularly would fail to score three goals, a pretty easy excuse to make with Price injured.
Video: TBL@MTL: Scrivens makes a fine catch on Carle's shot
When center Tomas Plekanec was asked what kind of impact Scrivens' recent play has had on the Canadiens' confidence, he was hesitant because he didn't want to make it seem as if goaltender Mike Condon, Price's primary replacement, wasn't doing a good enough job.
"This was the biggest example of us scoring goals and [Scrivens] making those saves, which [Condon] did before also, but we didn't score any goals," Plakanec said. "I know what you mean, but [Condon] played very well."
Therrien, however, had no such concerns when asked about Scrivens.
"He competes," Therrien said. "He makes desperate saves from time to time. It's good to focus on your technique, but there comes a time you need to compete. I think that's what he's done since Saturday. He's competing, he's making big saves. When your goalie plays the way he is, it gives confidence to your team and it gives you a chance to win."
Though Plekanec wouldn't go there when it came to goaltending, he too referenced the impact a few good bounces can have on confidence when discussing his own revival. He had two goals and an assist against the Lightning, giving him seven points in three games, as many as he had in his previous 13 games.
"I'm not a fan of saying that I didn't get a bounce here or there, but you play differently when you get those good first periods, when you get the goal and get something going right away," Plekanec said. "When you don't, you get yourself in a hole and that's what happened [over the slump]."
This goes back to the original premise, which was to explain how the Canadiens seemingly have turned things around. One of the primary reasons possession is important in hockey is puck luck and how it can be a determining factor. If you have the puck more, bounces should generally go your way more often than not. If you don't, they won't.
This is why the Canadiens put an emphasis on becoming a better possession team this season, before putting that theory to the ultimate test for the past two months. Now they have to hope the pendulum of luck swings hard the other way and stays there for a while, because they will still need plenty of it to reach the playoffs.