BOSTON -- The Montreal Canadiens on Friday sounded like a team reeling from a loss, not like one that pulled off a double-overtime Game 1 win in the Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Boston Bruins.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien and four of his players met with the media at their Boston hotel to discuss what happened in Game 1 on Thursday and what needs to change going into Game 2. From their answers, it seemed clear the Canadiens knew they were fortunate to open this best-of-7 with a win.
McCarthy: Bruins don't need to alter system
For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, NHL.com enlisted the help of longtime NHL assistant/associate coach Kevin McCarthy.
McCarthy played in more than 500 NHL games with the Philadelphia Flyers, Vancouver Canucks and Pittsburgh Penguins, then spent a decade as an assistant and associate coach with the Carolina Hurricanes, where he was a member of the staff that led them to a Stanley Cup championship in 2006. He joined the Flyers as an assistant during the 2009-10 season and stayed in Philadelphia until October 2013.
The Boston Bruins showed everything that makes them the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Montreal Canadiens.
Kevin McCarthy said the best part of the Bruins' game is their overload system in the defensive zone, where they put all five of their players on the strong side of the ice in order to outnumber the opposition in puck battles, resulting in pucks heading out of the zone and toward the opposing net more often than not.
"One thing that Boston does so well is there is no excitement in their defensive zone coverage, nobody's running around," McCarthy told NHL.com. "They're so hard to play against because they just keep doing the right things and they don't change, they do it over and over again."
One reason Bruins coach Claude Julien is able to do that is his level of trust in all four of his forward lines. We saw in Game 1 how Canadiens coach Michel Therrien occasionally called players to the bench if he didn't like the matchup, particularly trying to make sure Tomas Plekanec is always facing David Krejci, or at least as much as possible.
Julien, however, doesn't have those same concerns.
"You can tell Claude Julien doesn't care if his fourth line gets caught out there against the first or second line," McCarthy said. "Over the course of a series, that can make a difference."
The Canadiens vow to be better in Game 2, and one way McCarthy thinks they can is not to play into the Bruins strength of defending the middle of the ice. Often times in Game 1, the Canadiens attempted passes into the slot area that were picked off and turned the other way, something McCarthy said they need to stop doing.
"They need offensive-zone time," he said. "To me, they made too many high-risk plays from behind the goal line. Against Boston, there's nothing there, there's nothing in the middle. So you just wind up starting Boston's breakout."
McCarthy said the Canadiens need to reverse the puck more in the Bruins zone from one corner to the other, forcing them to react and adjust their overload system in order to create 1-on-1 battles instead of what is essentially a 3-on-5 battle for the puck on the strong side.
He also said the Canadiens need to use the points more to generate shots instead of looking for openings in the slot that simply aren't there.
-- Arpon Basu
"I think we got away with one [Thursday]," forward Thomas Vanek said. "We all know that. We're happy that we won Game 1. I don't think any of us are happy with how we won.
"We just need to improve by [Saturday] and I'm sure we will."
The numbers from Game 1 are staggering. Boston held a 51-33 advantage in shots on goal, a 98-58 edge in shot attempts, 56-45 in hits, 30-14 in blocked shots, 51-37 in faceoffs … the list goes on. The Bruins were better in practically every single area of the game.
So in spite of the victory, due largely to 48 saves from goaltender Carey Price
and two power-play goals by defenseman P.K. Subban
, the Canadiens are fully aware they will need to be a whole lot better in Game 2 on Saturday at TD Garden (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
"We're up a game, but we shouldn't be," Vanek said. "But that's good. Now we need to step up and help Carey [Saturday]."
Vanek and linemates David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty are focal points of where that improvement needs to come from.
Therrien took Vanek off that line in the second period Thursday and replaced him with Dale Weise before finally reuniting the line in overtime. The result was that Vanek received 11:43 of ice time through three periods, which would have been by far his lowest total since joining the Canadiens prior to the NHL Trade Deadline from the New York Islanders.
Desharnais said the line juggling was not only an indication of Vanek playing a poor game, far from it.
"We need to be better," Desharnais said. "It's not just him, it's the whole line. He switched him, but I think the message was clear to all three of us."
Vanek is playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2011, when he scored five goals in a seven-game loss to the Philadelphia Flyers with the Buffalo Sabres. Vanek's line with Desharnais and Pacioretty combined for 18 goals in 14 full regular-season games together, and Vanek's history of torching the Bruins, with 30 goals in 55 regular-season games, made him a key ingredient to the Canadiens' potential for success.
In Game 1, he and his line didn't deliver.
"It's frustrating," Vanek said. "You want to contribute, especially this time of year, so I think it's frustrating we're not having the success we had earlier. At the same time, you just take a step back, relax, and be better [Saturday]."
There was some speculation Vanek had some sort of injury that affected his play Thursday. Vanek put that to rest rather emphatically Friday.
"No. It's just a matter of not being good. It's as simple as that," he said. "Sometimes you overthink the game and when you overthink it you don't play as well. We just need to realize the three of us are good hockey players and start making plays again."
Desharnais on numerous occasions pointed out Friday his line is facing Boston's top defense pairing of Zdeno Chara with Dougie Hamilton and the top checking line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith, making it more difficult to produce offensively.
"We're used to things working well, and it's in those moments where you need to be concentrating on the game and not get frustrated," Desharnais said. "We're playing a good team and we know we're going to be targeted, we're playing against their best defensemen and the Bergeron line is not easy to play against. We need to stay focused, and when we get our chances we need to be ready."
Therrien gave a lot of the minutes he took away from the Desharnais line to the one centered by Lars Eller with Rene Bourque and Brian Gionta on the wings. It was the only Canadiens unit that was able to produce consistent shifts in the offensive zone and looked willing to physically engage and challenge the Bruins defense.
Therrien said no one should be surprised if that line receives as much ice time in Game 2, but he expects the rest of his team – the Desharnais line included – to emulate the aggressive style of the Eller group in Game 1.
"Mentally, the players need to be ready to compete, ready to play playoff games," Therrien said. "That might have been what we were lacking in our performance [Thursday].
"Luckily, Carey was ready."