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Five things Canadiens must do to get back in series

by Arpon Basu

The Montreal Canadiens are facing a difficult task, heading into enemy territory down 2-0 in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers.

With starting goaltender Carey Price out for at least the duration of the series with an injury to his right leg, the burden falls on rookie Dustin Tokarski to help the Canadiens back into the series, starting with Game 3 on Thursday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

In addition to Tokarski giving his team a chance, here are five things the Canadiens must do to make this a series:

1. Traffic nightmare

The Canadiens threw everything they had at Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist in Game 2. They had 80 shot attempts, with 41 reaching the net. The problem was that Lundqvist stopped 40 of them.

Lundqvist deserves the lion's share of the credit for limiting the Canadiens to one goal, but Montreal could have made his life a little more difficult.

Aside from forward Brendan Gallagher, few members of the Canadiens created much traffic in front of Lundqvist, and it was rare that he had to move laterally before making a save.

Creating some traffic and finding a way to pierce the Rangers defense in order to make some east-west plays will make it more likely that Lundqvist allows the Canadiens to give Tokarski some goal support.

"Like any other goalie, we need to be in his face," Canadiens center David Desharnais said. "If he can't see the puck he won't stop it. He made a lot of saves on the first shot, but we weren't able to go get rebounds and get to pucks that are tougher to stop."

2. Balanced attack

The Canadiens' strong possession numbers from Game 2 were a bit misleading because the bulk of the advantage came from the line of Gallagher, Desharnais and Max Pacioretty.

Montreal's first line was dominant throughout the game, generating close to 90 percent of the total shot attempts while they were on the ice at even strength, according to The third line of Rene Bourque, Lars Eller and Brian Gionta also was above 50 percent, but the two other lines were possession disasters.

The second line, with Alex Galchenyuk, Tomas Plekanec and Thomas Vanek, ranged from 30.8 percent (Galchenyuk) to 41.2 percent (Vanek), and all three players on the fourth line, Brandon Prust, Daniel Briere and Dale Weise, were well below 20 percent.

Coach Michel Therrien juggled his lines at practice Wednesday in an attempt to rectify the disparity between the Desharnais and Eller lines, and the two other centers on the team. How well it works likely will determine whether the Canadiens can get back in the series.

3. Win the special-teams battle

In the Canadiens' seven-game second-round victory against the Boston Bruins, they failed to score a power-play goal in two games and allowed a goal on the penalty kill in two games.

Through two games of their series against the Rangers, the Canadiens have managed to match  those numbers.

Montreal's power play scored eight times in 25 attempts against Boston, but has gone 0-for-7 against New York. The penalty kill went 15-for-18 against Boston but is 6-for-10 against New York.

Each of those numbers will need to improve drastically, especially considering how difficult it will be to score at even strength on Lundqvist.

The Canadiens spent a significant portion of practice Wednesday working on special teams, so look for an adjustment in Game 3.

4. Scale back the forecheck

The Canadiens were able to drive the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, and to a lesser extent the Bruins, crazy with their forechecking scheme, which created turnovers in the offensive and neutral zones. That allowed Montreal to create offense off the counterattack.

Except another thing that does is expose you to the possibility of giving up odd-man rushes, which is not the end of the world when you have an elite goalie like Price in net.

With Tokarski there, giving up odd-man rushes like the one that led to Rick Nash's winning goal in Game 2 becomes unacceptable. If the Canadiens want Tokarski to give them a chance to win, they will have to give him a chance to do that.

5. Overcome the matchup game

Therrien had the advantage of getting his top line away from New York's top defense pairing of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh due to having the last change in Montreal. That advantage shifts to Rangers coach Alain Vigneault in Games 3 and 4.

The engine of the Canadiens offense is the Desharnais line, but if it gets shut down by Girardi and McDonagh, the other Montreal forwards will need to compensate and Therrien will need to make a decision.

Does he use the hard change to try to get Desharnais away from the Rangers' top defenders? Or does he let them play through it and hope the other forwards give the Canadiens enough offensively against lesser competition?

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