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Canadiens hoping they've finally turned a corner

by James Murphy
This has not been the centennial celebration the Montreal Canadiens envisioned when the season began. After finishing first in the Eastern Conference and making the second round of the playoffs last season, hopes were high that a Stanley Cup might become part of the celebration this time around. Unfortunately for the Canadiens and their fans, instead they have been witness to a season of turmoil.

As the All-Star Game approached, the Canadiens went into a monumental freefall that has left them clinging to a playoff spot and fighting off an onslaught of criticism.

"It hasn't been what anyone thought it would be, that's for sure," defenseman Josh Gorges said. "We just keep saying we're going to change things and turn it around, but it seems to get worse."

Following a lackluster effort and resulting 5-2 beating from the Maple Leafs last Saturday, Canadiens GM and coach Bob Gainey pointed to an obvious problem.

"The NHL is a lot about momentum and right now we don't have it," Gainey said. "Well, rather we have it, but it's going in the wrong direction. We need to stop it and get it going the other way. Since I've been in this position [head coach] or even before that, it hasn't been going in the right direction and before we can get it going the other way, we need more players digging in and more players competing as a team for 60 minutes."

Forward Georges Laraque said it's time this team stops talking.

"I don't really know what to say anymore," Laraque said. "We just need to stop saying it and do it."

On Tuesday, the Habs displayed a more concerted and cohesive effort in a 6-3 win against the Thrashers. Gainey decided to put his big guns -- Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay -- together to find an offensive spark. The trio delivered in a big way, combining for 11 points, with Tanguay leading the way with five. Defenseman Andrei Markov also had three points.

"If you want to have success, your best players have to play like they're capable of playing," Tanguay said. "Alex and Saku worked really hard and it was a good game for us. Hopefully we can build on it and our line can play like that in our next game."

Gainey was very happy with not only the offensive output, but also the commitment his top line displayed.

"Well, Koivu's line certainly performed in the role that they were put into," Gainey said. "They were a good working trio of players that were productive in the places where we need that offensive thrust, on the power play and really throughout the game. They played like they wanted to play together and they were working to play with each other, good passing plays for shots, for scoring chances and for goals."

But while the players were excited about breaking their five-game losing streak, they understood this was just one game.
The Habs (38-27-9, 83 points) are still clinging to a playoff spot with a two-point lead over the ninth-place Panthers entering Thursday's games.

"It comes down to individually finding a way to play better (so that) collectively you can become a better team," Koivu said. "It comes down to the mental aspect. In that sense, you can change things fairly quickly if you can get things rolling."

The Canadiens have been saying the right things for a while now, but success, aside from Tuesday's win, has been fleeting.

"You could really see us doing the little things out there and getting to the dirty areas," forward Chris Higgins said. "Our top line was amazing, but not just because they're so skilled because they worked so hard and that trickles down throughout the lineup when it happens. We came in here after the game feeling good about ourselves for once, but we patted ourselves on the back and now we move on to the next game."

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