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Canadiens now desperate after another loss to Bruins

by Arpon Basu

BOSTON -- Desperation.

It's a word that gets tossed around with great frequency this time of year and for the first time in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens are being forced to use it.

The notion of playing desperate hockey has been around almost as long as the game itself, but how to do it effectively is what separates the great teams from those that are merely good.

The Boston Bruins had it in Game 4 of this Eastern Conference Second Round series when, facing a 2-1 deficit in a hostile Bell Centre against an arch rival, they entered trying to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole the franchise has never climbed out of in 21 attempts over 90 years.

The desperation the Bruins showed in that game manifested itself through increased defensive awareness and seemingly put all of their energy into avoiding mistakes at all costs. The Canadiens suddenly weren't getting three breakaways anymore. The Bruins stopped making uncharacteristic turnovers in their own zone. Their game tightened up noticeably.

The result was a scoreless game through 60 minutes, a fortunate bounce off the end boards right at the beginning of overtime and the goal of a lifetime from Matt Fraser to tie the series at two games apiece.

After winning 4-2 in Game 5 at home on Saturday on the backs of yet another stellar performance from the line of Carl Soderberg, Loui Eriksson and Fraser, the Bruins are now the comfortable team in this series.

And now it's the Canadiens who are desperate.

Montreal swept the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round and won Game 1 of this series on the road. Truth be told, the Canadiens have had a rather easy road through these playoffs until now.

How this group of players will react to this kind of situation is basically an unknown.

Based on what happened when the Ottawa Senators were successful in making the Canadiens lose their composure in a five-game playoff loss in the first round a year ago, the precedent is not strong.

"You back any animal into a corner, it's going to be desperate," said Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, who had another strong night despite allowing four goals for the second time in the series. "We're going to be a desperate hockey club come the next game.

"We're excited for the challenge."

The Canadiens had reason to be desperate at the start of the third period of Game 5, down 3-1 on the scoreboard and still well within striking distance. But they weren't.

Montreal mustered four shots on goal through the first half of the third and none of them could have been considered the least bit dangerous.

Sometimes, desperation can in fact hurt you.

"It's tough, because you come out with desperation, like we've got to throw everything we've got at them. It doesn't always translate well to playing well," defenseman Josh Gorges said. "You can be desperate, then all of a sudden you wind up out of the play, or you're too overexcited.

"You're going so hard and you want to do so much."

The Canadiens didn't show much life until coach Michel Therrien pulled Price with under five minutes remaining and the score 4-1 after Eriksson scored his line's second even-strength goal of the game and fourth of the series.

It came too late, and now the Canadiens have a day to collect themselves and figure out how best to apply the desperation they will feel in Game 6 at home Monday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

"It's a fine line," Gorges said. "It has to come, especially from the older guys on the bench reassuring everybody and communicating to everyone that you have to have that desperate mindset. That puck has got to be yours. That 1-on-1 battle has to be yours. Pucks on the blue line have to be out, they have to be in. That desperation has to be there, but not, 'I've got to do extra.'

"I have to bear down, I have to be desperate to do my job, but still play the game."

The Bruins will need to manufacture that same feeling, which shouldn't be too hard for them. This is a team with pedigree looking to reach the Eastern Conference Final for the third time since 2011, and doing it by eliminating a hated rival in its own building to boot.

"You can't count them out," Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. "We've been in situations before where we might have taken a team lightly, but you can never take this team lightly because they're a great team and you have to respect them."

The Bruins will need to respect the Canadiens, who were in this exact same situation in 2011 and won Game 6 at home to force a Game 7 that was won in overtime by Boston.

But even more than the Canadiens, the Bruins may need to respect their desperation.

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