MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens like to say they have dealt with adversity all season. Every team likes to say it.
But the truth is the Canadiens have not faced any adversity this season. None at all.
They never lost more than three consecutive games.
They were the healthiest team in the NHL.
They were at or near the top of the League standings all season.
The Canadiens shouldn’t have to apologize for any of those things, but the circumstances of their season have not prepared them for what they face now.
A 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday left the Canadiens down 2-0 in their Eastern Conference Second Round series, which shifts to Tampa Bay, where the Lightning have lost 11 of 45 games this season, for Games 3 and 4.
It was also the Canadiens’ seventh consecutive loss to the Lightning, a team they must figure out how to beat four times in five games if they want to advance to the Eastern Conference Final for a second straight year.
This is adversity. The Canadiens will need to learn how to handle it on the fly.
Forward Max Pacioretty was told people will likely write them off in this series now that they have dropped the first two games at home. He said he wouldn’t blame anyone for doing just that.
"We’re used to that. That’s fair," Pacioretty said. "I think if the tables were turned, people would say the same thing in the opposite way. We didn’t handle adversity well this game, but we’ve got to find a way to handle the adversity well in the series."
If the Canadiens wanted to show how well-prepared they were to overcome the challenges presented by the Lightning, they certainly did not do it Sunday.
The Canadiens stormed out of the gate in the first period, as they have in practically every game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, only to have that momentum derailed by their own hand.
This time it was Brandon Prust taking a roughing penalty against Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn deep in the Lightning zone at 13:45 of the first period, a point in the game when the Canadiens were thoroughly dominating. He then had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty tacked on for arguing with referee Brad Watson.
After the loss, Prust accused Watson of calling him names and taking over the game.
Left Wing - MTL
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 3
SOG: 15 | +/-: 1
The fact is, it was Prust that took over the game. Defenseman P.K. Subban, too, when he took a cross-checking penalty 19 seconds after the Canadiens finished killing the double minor to Prust.
On the ensuing penalty kill, Torrey Mitchell turned Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman inside-out before going in alone on goalie Ben Bishop but was turned aside; 45 seconds later, Valtteri Filppula scored on the power play.
"Before we took some really, really bad penalties at the end of the first period, I thought we were perfect," said Michel Therrien, the Canadiens' coach. "It’s pretty simple. Indiscipline cost us the game. That’s unacceptable."
Instead of having a 2-0 lead, the Canadiens went into the first intermission at 1-1, and all the momentum built in the opening 14 minutes was gone.
In 45 seconds.
"It’s frustrating," Pacioretty said. "We came out, great start, get traffic, get pucks to the net, we had tons of momentum and we just handed it to them. We go to Tampa 1-1 or we go to Tampa down two games to nothing. It’s not good enough."
Left Wing - MTL
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 3
SOG: 26 | +/-: 0
That word – frustrating – was repeated often in the Canadiens' dressing room following the game. Though no one would admit it, the fact that this is happening against the Lightning has to add to that frustration.
The Canadiens swept the Lightning in the first round of the playoffs last season but have lost all seven games against Tampa Bay since then.
"I think it’s just going to feel that much better when we win and the floodgates open and we get rolling," Prust said. "It’s going to feel that much better."
Toward the end of the game Prust initiated a collision with Bishop, which is typical of the ongoing relationship between the two, fought Coburn, then threw his elbow pad at the Lightning bench as he skated off the ice. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos caught it, threw it to a fan in the stands and laughed with his teammates on the bench.
"That just shows frustration," Stamkos said. "Obviously that's a good thing for us."
The Lightning have the Canadiens right where they want them, right where the Canadiens had them after winning the first two games in Tampa last season.
The two-day break before Game 3 at Amalie Arena on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, TVA Sports) could be the best thing for the Canadiens, or it could be the worst. It depends on them.
"I’m frustrated," Pacioretty said. "I’ll be [angry] tonight. I've got two [days] in between games to figure it out, get better, get the right mindset, get the right attitude to come back and try and win a series."
His teammates will need to do the same, and it’s impossible to tell if they will because this is the first time this season the Canadiens have faced anything remotely similar to this situation.
Their response will speak volumes.