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Canadiens see 2-0 hole as just another rallying point

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- As the final buzzer sounded at Bell Centre on Monday, ensuring the Montreal Canadiens were down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Final to the New York Rangers, P.K. Subban allowed himself to show a touch of frustration.

The Canadiens defenseman spent 5:02 of the final 6:03 of the game on the ice, trying desperately to beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist on a night he looked superhuman.

Subban must have been exhausted, and perhaps the gravity of the situation hit him, and he reacted.

He shot the puck around the boards, and skated off the ice.

That's it.

By the time the Canadiens dressing room was open to the media following their 3-1 loss in Game 2, Subban not only had lost that frustration, it was replaced by confidence.

Heading into Game 3 on Thursday in New York (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS), Subban felt enormously positive about where the Canadiens stood in the series.

"As far as we're concerned, we're only going to get better," Subban said sitting at his locker, seemingly immune to the exhaustion a normal man would have felt after playing as much as he did over the final minutes. "I still don't think we've played our best hockey game yet. So I don't think there's any panic here. I've been up 2-0 on teams before and I've seen them come back and beat us.

"There's no pressure on us going into there. There's a lot of pressure on them, so we'll be ready to play."

Prior to the start of the series, before the Rangers won two straight games on the road, coach Alain Vigneault appeared to be reveling in the fact the Canadiens were the favored team. The Canadiens had home-ice advantage and defeated the NHL's best regular-season team, the Boston Bruins, in the second round, Vigneault made a point of noting over and over again in English and French to whoever would listen.

Now that the Canadiens are being written off in this series, facing a situation where they need to win four of the next five games, it appears Montreal coach Michel Therrien is beginning to play some motivational mind games.

When the Canadiens eliminated the Bruins in Game 7, many of the players spoke of how they felt the Bruins did not respect them or their game and how that served as motivation to beat them.

Well, here we go again.

"We surprised a lot of people through the course of the season," Therrien said Tuesday during a conference call with reporters as his players had a day away from the ice. "When we started the season there were a lot of people not even putting us in the playoffs, or if they wanted to be polite, they'd give us the eighth spot.

"We caused a surprise to make the playoffs. We caused a surprise against the Tampa Bay Lightning [in the first round] to win in four [games], and we caused a bigger surprise to beat the Boston Bruins.

"Now again, there are not many people that believe in us. But that's a group with a lot of character. This is a group that believes in themselves, and we're going to focus on one game and try to create a surprise for Thursday night again."

The Canadiens take on the world.

It's a familiar coaching tactic to rally a team around a sea of doubt, but in this case, Therrien may have legitimate reason for optimism.

The Canadiens attempted 80 shots in Game 2 compared to 44 for the Rangers. The disparity was considerably less drastic at 5-on-5, with Montreal holding a 48-39 advantage, but that remains a 55.2 percent advantage in shot attempts, according to

Compare that to Game 1, when the Rangers held a 15-7 advantage in shot attempts while the score was close, before the Canadiens closed the gap once the game was out of reach.

If Montreal is able to replicate the strong possession game and pressure on Lundqvist it showed in Game 2, it could have a strong chance of crawling back into the series in Game 3.

"I liked the way we responded," Therrien said. "I like the way we played [Monday], and that is the only thing we've got to focus on. [If we] keep playing like this, breaks will change and luck will turn around. You need some luck at times to win hockey games. The only thing that we're going to focus on is to make sure we've got another solid game in New York."

The Canadiens might very well need some luck to beat Lundqvist, who made whoever was in the Montreal net irrelevant with his play in a 40-save virtuoso performance. Even if Carey Price were not lost for the series, there's no guarantee he wins Game 2 for the Canadiens.

With Dustin Tokarski replacing Price, the pressure to score on Lundqvist becomes that much greater for the Canadiens. Even though they landed 41 shots on goal, that represented a little more than half of their total shot attempts in the game, which is a poor success rate.

The Canadiens missed the net 22 times Monday. They had 22 shots on goal in Game 1. Although several of those missed shots were on purpose, to try to create rebound plays off the end boards, many of them came on quality scoring opportunities. It's what tends to happen to shooters when a goaltender looks unbeatable.

"I'd rather give credit to the Rangers," Therrien said. "Yes, we threw a lot of pucks on the net and they blocked a lot of shots. And at times we missed the net by a few inches and guys were battling to get the rebounds. The Rangers defense, they did a phenomenal job to block players out and not giving us the time or second chances."

The Rangers may very well deserve the credit, but the wayward shooting accuracy will be something the Canadiens will need to rectify in Game 3.

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