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Therrien making right moves behind Montreal bench

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- Michel Therrien lives in a petri dish under the microscope that is the Montreal hockey market.

Every one of Therrien's moves as coach of the Montreal Canadiens is dissected and analyzed to death, and to say he is open to criticism would be stating things mildly. He works in a firing range of criticism.

When Therrien was hired by general manager Marc Bergevin for his second stint as coach of his hometown team, the endorsement from the fan base and the media was far from unanimous. His decisions sometimes appear strange from the outside, but they also work more often than not.

The latest example came Tuesday in Game 3 of the Canadiens Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Boston Bruins, a 4-2 win that gave Montreal a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.

It was Therrien's first opportunity of the series to perhaps get his big line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Thomas Vanek away from the blanket coverage of Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and center Patrice Bergeron by taking advantage of having the final change on home ice.

The line combined to score 18 goals in 14 full regular-season games together, so giving them one final opportunity to make it work appeared to make some sense. Except instead of doing that, instead of giving the line a chance to produce under a favorable matchup scenario, Therrien went ahead and broke up the line.

After skating in his regular spot in warmups, Vanek was moved to right wing on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Michael Bournival and Brendan Gallagher was moved to the line with Desharnais and Pacioretty, where he had played before Vanek took his spot after being acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline.

It was a bold, unexpected move. And it worked.

Vanek made a tremendous pass to Plekanec to open the scoring at 10:57 of the first period, P.K. Subban made it 2-0 less than four minutes later and the Canadiens never looked back.

But beyond that, it forced Bruins coach Claude Julien to make a decision on how he would deploy Chara and Bergeron, a decision that he might not have anticipated being forced to make.

"First of all, the Desharnais line with Pacioretty and Vanek, if you look at the last 10 games, even before the playoffs, 5-on-5 they were not producing enough," Therrien explained. "So I talked to the players this morning and we decided to make a change, bring probably a bit more energy to our lines. I liked the result of this. Gallagher is a guy that will bring energy on every line that he's going to play on. And Vanek made a hell of a play on the first goal. So I was pleased with the change."

Therrien has often had reason to be pleased with the changes he's made this season, even if they were difficult to explain.

Another one on Tuesday was inserting Douglas Murray into the lineup on defense in the place of Francis Bouillon. Murray had not played a single game in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, and his effectiveness as an NHL defenseman might be one of the more debated topics in the League, let alone Montreal.

Murray's first career playoff shift with the Canadiens ended with him icing the puck, and he spent most of his early shifts playing without the puck in his own zone.

But even there, Murray made a play that had an impact on the game, crushing Bergeron with a hit as he entered the Montreal zone on the power play, one of five hits he would be credited with during his 12:22 of ice time.

"He made his presence felt," Therrien said. "I liked how he was physically involved, he kept things simple. He's a guy that has a lot of respect from his teammates. We could feel that Douglas was in the lineup tonight."

Therrien has entered each of the Canadiens' two series so far being widely looked upon as the lesser coach, first against Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning and now against Julien. That's not necessarily a knock on Therrien, considering Cooper is a finalist for the Jack Adams Award and Julien won a Stanley Cup in 2011 and led the Bruins to the Final last spring.

But Therrien's game plan flustered Cooper in Montreal's first-round sweep, and the Canadiens are now up 2-1 in the series against Julien's Bruins.

His players don't often heap praise on Therrien because he can be a difficult coach to play for at times, but it's hard to argue with his results so far. Since Therrien was hired by Bergevin, the Canadiens have a 75-42-13 regular-season record and are 6-1 in these playoffs.

"He's a coach of details. The small things really matter to him," center Lars Eller said. "If you're hot, you're going to play. If you're struggling, then you're not.

"He doesn't care too much about the name on the back."

Therrien didn't care about the name on Vanek's back on Tuesday, and his willingness to move a star player off his top line paid big dividends.

"When you look at the results they had, I think we had reached a point where we needed to make adjustments," Therrien said. "That's part of our responsibilities as coaches to make the right adjustments to get the best out of our team."

Therrien's been doing that, and more, so far in these playoffs.

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