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Ramsay: Canadiens' defense must stay aggressive

by Dan Rosen

For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens, has enlisted the help of former NHL coach Craig Ramsay to break down the action. Ramsay will be checking in throughout the series.

Ramsay played in more than 1,000 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres before going on to coach the Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Atlanta Thrashers. In the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he led the Flyers to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final. Ramsay most recently was an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers.

Aggressive pinches from the point and defenseman joining the rush are necessities for the Montreal Canadiens if they want to force a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final, longtime NHL coach and player Craig Ramsay said.

The New York Rangers lead the best-of-7 series 3-2. Game 6 is Thursday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

"It's harder to [be aggressive] on the road sometimes because you get a little nervous about it, but I still think they can do it," Ramsay told "Their guys can do it."

Ramsay said he thought the Canadiens' defensemen, particularly Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban, were effective when they pinched in Game 5. He thought their pinches put pressure on the Rangers and gave Montreal more offensive options.

Markov had three assists. Subban had an assist and was plus-3 with four shots on goal. The Canadiens won 7-4.

"Markov reads plays well and when he pinches, he usually does it very effectively because he knows he's got to go in there and play the puck," Ramsay said. "I saw Subban just kind of sitting on somebody. He wasn't trying to run over somebody. It was a smart pinch, he was in early and he was in on top. You don't have to run guys over when you pinch. You have to play the puck."

Ramsay also said the Canadiens' forwards did a good job in tracking back when the defenseman pinched so Montreal didn't get burned with an inordinate amount of outnumbered rushes.

He liked Montreal's game when the Canadiens played with a high forward in the zone. That allowed their defensemen to pinch without fear of what can happen behind them. It also pulled the Rangers away from the net and opened up space in the slot area.

"When Montreal gets that high forward the Rangers have to react to that," Ramsay said. "They have to react out and away from the net. Their 'D' have to step out away from the net. That opens up the blue line, the point guys. But that slot coverage is vital. When Montreal started running a three-man high offense it was effective."

The key for the Canadiens is to keep playing as aggressively and smart in Game 6. Montreal has shown throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs that it is at its best when attacking and taking some risks. No need to stop now.

"You want to make sure you're not playing safe just because there were a bunch of goals scored [in Game 5]," Ramsay said. "I think you still have to be aggressive in the offensive zone, you have to be solid in the neutral zone and looking for turnovers, and you have to have your 'D' joining rushes. It'll be those three things. Just don't be slow.

"Sometimes when you look at it you're saying, 'They're fast,' but it can be more about playing quick, which is getting the puck, moving it up and attacking," he continued. "You can look fast but in essence what you're doing is just playing quick. Move the puck quick and attack up ice. I think they played quicker [in Game 5] and that makes them look faster."

As for the Rangers, Ramsay said their hurdle heading into Game 6 is as much mental as it is physical.

"I know the Rangers are good, but they have to be thinking that they have to be really good because they can't let this one slip," Ramsay said. "They don't want to go to Montreal and play Game 7 in that building having just given up seven goals in the building with that atmosphere. So the pressure is on them. There's no question the pressure is on them. They gave up seven goals in Montreal, and they do not want to go back there. That's pressure on their whole team."

Even more pressure if the Canadiens are attacking with aggressive pinches and defensemen joining the rush.


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