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Lack of playoff scoring still haunting Canadiens

Loss to Rangers in Game 1 brings to mind past failures

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- The questions appear to be the same, year after year.

Players come and go, coaches are fired and hired and fired again, and yet it doesn't change.

When the Montreal Canadiens hit the Stanley Cup Playoffs, their difficulty putting pucks past goaltenders invariably comes up at some point.

It just so happens that this year that issue came to the forefront right off the bat in a 2-0 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round series at Bell Centre on Wednesday.

 

[RELATED: Henrik Lundqvist silences critical Bell Centre fans | Complete Rangers vs. Canadiens series coverage]

 

"That game could have gone either way," Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty said. "We're not satisfied with the way we played because we want to score goals, we want to win. But at the same time I feel that game could have gone either way and momentum could have shifted with a goal or a bounce, but we've just got to dig deeper to create that goal and create that luck."

The Canadiens gave up home ice advantage in the series after failing to, well, take advantage of it.

After a one-year absence from the playoffs, Bell Centre was rocking. Beloved Quebec singer Ginette Reno sang O Canada and got the crowd of 21,288 into a frenzy prior to the opening faceoff.

The Canadiens fed off it and controlled the start, leading 8-2 in shots on goal before the game was 10 minutes old. But they failed to put one past Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has long had issues playing in this building and looked to be fighting the puck early on, leaving rebounds in dangerous areas on nearly every shot he saw.

This was the time the Canadiens absolutely had to take a lead, when the Rangers were reeling and Lundqvist appeared vulnerable, because he found his game after the first intermission and was rock-solid over the final 40 minutes.

Video: NYR@MTL, Gm1: Lundqvist stones Weber with shoulder

Instead it was the Rangers who took the lead at 10:10 of the first period -- on their third shot on goal -- when forward Tanner Glass picked up a loose puck off a faceoff in the Canadiens end and roofed a backhander that beat Montreal goalie Carey Price high on the glove side.

That was the only shot that got past Price all night, with New York's second goal going into an empty net. 

It was enough for Price to lose.

"I really feel we had as good a chance to win this game as they did," coach Claude Julien said. "Instead of us getting that first bounce they did and took the lead and protected it well."

There is nothing wrong with having your best player be your goalie. But there is only so much a goalie can do to impact a game, and Price has done it consistently for the Canadiens for years. 

Except he can't score goals, and over Price's career in Montreal it has been a near constant problem.

"There were some chances to score goals," Pacioretty said. "At the other end of it I think there were a couple of chances where we got pucks to the net and rebounds were sitting there. We've got to dig a little bit deeper to come up with those type of chances."

Video: NYR@MTL, Gm1: Price recovers to turn aside Lindberg

Compare that to this quote.

"That's the one thing you learn about the playoffs, you've got to bury your chances. I think individually we've all had chances to bury, and whether it's bad luck or not being sharp enough, we didn't do enough things well to finish them, to win."

That was said by former Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban on May 13, 2015 after Montreal was eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the playoffs.

It was the Canadiens last playoff game before Game 1 on Wednesday. Two years have passed and massive personnel changes have happened, including Subban being traded to the Nashville Predators for defenseman Shea Weber. But the words Subban said that night could just have easily been said by someone else in the Canadiens dressing room Wednesday.

It is only one game but the problem has existed for so long. To have their lack of finish around the net haunt them in Game 1 will represent a mental challenge ahead of Game 2 on Friday (7 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, TVA Sports, MSG).

The Canadiens cannot let their inability to score in this one game become more than that, because they are facing what amounts to a must-win game Friday to avoid going to New York down 2-0 in the series.

"I don't think about it," Pacioretty said. "I try not to think about it. It just seems like there's always a narrative that surrounds the team. We did a good job of scoring goals this year and we should have that confidence going into the playoffs. Tonight was an example of us not being able to capitalize on chances, but there's no point listening to negative stuff about that. 

"We know what we have in this room, we know we have guys that can score goals and there were a lot of chances to score goals tonight."

Those chances to score goals need to turn into actual goals. And it needs to happen fast.

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