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Canadiens believe in Max Pacioretty

Defend forward, who has no goals in series vs. Rangers

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

BROSSARD, Quebec -- The noise is constant.

That is what makes Max Pacioretty's life so difficult whenever he enters the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Montreal Canadiens, but the persistence of it also speaks to why the noise is there to begin with.

Pacioretty has not scored a goal through the first four games of the Canadiens' Eastern Conference First Round series against the New York Rangers. The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2 heading into Game 5 at Bell Centre on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, TVA Sports, MSG).

But the chatter in Montreal about Pacioretty's performance could lead you to believe the Canadiens are on the brink of elimination.

Coach Claude Julien spoke to the media for 17 minutes on Wednesday, a day after the Canadiens lost 2-1 at Madison Square Garden, and well over half of that time was spent defending his forward's performance through the first four games.

"I'd like to put the context in the right perspective," Julien said, perfectly summing up what he was doing in discussing a player who is consistently one of the top goal-scorers in the NHL.

Pacioretty was tied for eighth in the NHL with 35 goals in the regular season and has scored at least 30 in each of the five full seasons he has played for the Canadiens. But come playoff time, Pacioretty tends to be a slow starter.

He scored no goals in four games the first time he made the playoffs in 2012-13, scored one in his first nine games of the 2014 playoffs and one in his first four games in 2015. Now this.

Video: MTL@NYR, Gm3: Lundqvist rejects Pacioretty's redirect

So though Julien was referring to the context of his captain's consistent status as a top goal-scorer and a good leader, there also is the context of Pacioretty's past playoff performances.

"He's an exceptional player," Canadiens defenseman Nathan Beaulieu said. "I'm sure when [the Rangers are] doing meetings, he's their main focus. You've got to shut a guy like that down. There's no panic in Max's game. 

"I feel like he may feel pressure because he hears it from the outside noise. He can't control it. It's unfortunate, but he can't control it."

Pacioretty has had to work on limiting how much of that outside noise he allows himself to hear, especially since being named captain prior to last season. 

He has been the subject of numerous controversies over the past two seasons, most of them frivolous, and has had to learn how to manage them while also learning the intricacies of being a leader.

He still struggles with it, but said in January that his two young sons help him to keep things in perspective during difficult times.

"I think having a family makes me realize it," he said then. "Before I go to a game and I'm playing hockey with my kid and I hear my kid act like he's me and he's scoring a goal and he celebrates saying 'Pacioretty scores!' I mean, why do I ever get down on myself? It's just amazing. I want to go out there and score for my kids and have them re-enact it at home later. That's what life's all about."

Pacioretty said after Game 4 that he didn't have his best game and needs to play better, but that did little to quiet the storm swirling around him in Montreal. He did not speak to the media after the Canadiens held a team meeting Wednesday, but his teammates came to his defense just like Julien did.

Video: FLA@MTL: Pacioretty rips a one-timer on odd-man rush

"I think he puts a lot of pressure on himself because he wants the team to win and he wants to be part of the reason for that," forward Paul Byron said. "We all have his back in this dressing room, we all believe in him. It's just a matter of time. Getting the first [goal], the monkey comes off your back and you start playing a lot better after that."

If there is one part of Pacioretty's playoff history that is encouraging for the Canadiens, it is that once he sheds that monkey, he tends to produce at a high level. In 2014 he scored four goals in his final eight playoff games, and in 2015 he scored four goals in his final seven.

Julien will be able to get Pacioretty away from the Rangers' top defense pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi with the last change in Game 5, so perhaps that will help him score.

But even if it doesn't, Julien is confident goals will come, and with the series tied 2-2 and the Canadiens having home-ice advantage, things are not exactly dire.

"We know we can expect more out of him because we know he can score goals," Julien said, "but that doesn't make him a bad player."

Pacioretty needs to remember that now more than ever, because the noise surrounding him is becoming almost impossible to ignore.

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