Memo to the hockey gods of Montreal: It’s now or never, boys.
Need more cliches? Backs to the wall. No tomorrow. Do or die.
They all belong to the Montreal Canadiens as they fight to stay alive trailing the New York Rangers in the East final by a 3-1 count.
After a stunning 3-2 OT victory on Sunday in Broadway, the Rangers can deliver that final crushing blow to the Habs’ playoff dream on Tuesday night with a victory in Game 5 at the Bell Centre.
After an optional skate with only 13 players Monday, the Habs remained defiant, saying this series is far from over.
“We’re not giving up. I think we played our best game of the series (Sunday),” said Montreal winger Rene Bourque. “It’s just one game at a time. We’re at home. We’ve got to come out good. Get this game, then take the next one after that. It starts (Tuesday).
“Guys were positive (Sunday). I thought we played well and we had chances to put it away and it didn’t go in. We know we can play with them. We’ve got to win three games in a row. Everybody believes. It’s just a matter of going out there and giving it all.”
The Habs have been here before in these playoffs by facing elimination trailing 3-2 in Game 6 against Boston in the East semi and Montreal came back to win the series in Game 7 at the TD Garden.
Some of the players in the room were part of the Montreal team that came back in 2010 to beat the Washington Capitals after trailing by a 3-1 deficit.
“You start building momentum,” said Habs’ captain Brian Gionta, who was part of the comeback against the Caps. “It’s not a secret: You start doing the right things, you start getting rewarded for it, momentum builds, and you keep carrying that. Even a couple of teams this year have been able to do that, the Kings and the Rangers. So it’s not something that can’t be done and with the group we have in here, we believe we can do it.”
This time, the club is up against a different foe. The Rangers have been the better team for the most part in this series and if the Habs are to win, their play must improve dramatically.
Montreal players are convinced all they have to do is get the tide to turn by making a break, creating a scoring chance or getting a good bounce that results in a goal and a boost of confidence.
Coach Michel Therrien doesn’t believe the fact the Habs were able to come back in 2010 against Washington means much in this situation.
“I’d rather look at it, personally as a coach, it’s been 25 years that I’ve coached, we all have our own experiences, we’ve seen it all. So, it’s about concentrating on one game,” said Therrien. “Listen, the game (Sunday) could have gone either way, we’re all conscious of that. We weren’t on the right side of that, of course. But what’s happened in the past over the years, that doesn’t change anything. It’s about right now.
“You need a short memory. Our short memory that we have is to have played Game 6 and Game 7 against the best team in the league at that time (Boston). That’s really what I’m concentrated on. It’s always a question of attitude. When you have the right attitude to take on any kind of challenge, you give yourself a chance. That’s what we’ll have (Tuesday), the right attitude.’’
After spending two days firing verbal shots at the Rangers before Game 4, the Habs weren’t in any mood to give New York any bulletin-board material. The attitude now is all business.
At this juncture, the best the Habs can hope is to book a trip back to New York for Game 6 Thursday night with all the pressure on the Rangers to close this series out in front of their faithful.
“Our backs are against the wall. It’s win or go home,” said Gionta.
The Habs were saying all the right things Monday. Now the talk must turn to action.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Habs have come back twice in their history from a 3-1 deficit to win a series. The first time was in 2004 versus the Boston Bruins with Claude Julien behind the bench. The other was in 2010 against the Washington Capitals when Jacques Martin was the coach.
Is Carey Price on the road to a comeback?
There was more than a little intrigue at the Montreal Canadiens’ practice facility in a nearby suburb Monday when the club’s No. 1 goalie went for a 20-minute skate in his track suit before practice.
While coach Michel Therrien told reporters that Price was out for the series after he was nailed by Chris Kreider in Game 1, suddenly, the possibility of his return was raised.
Trailing the New York Rangers by a 3-1 count and facing elimination Tuesday at the Bell Centre, Price — who is believed to have a knee injury — tested it out during the twirl.
Therrien threw water on the fact Price will suddenly reappear.
“Like I said, he’s not going to play in this series,” said Therrien. “It’s part of the rehab and that’s all. It’s a great sign.”
The reality is if Price was close to a return, nobody would know. If the Habs are able to find a way to prolong this series, then nothing should be ruled out.
Remember one thing: You will never know the truth about injuries in the playoffs.
“We can’t look too far down the road with that,” Therrien said in French. “He won’t be able to play in this series. This is part of his rehab to get slowly back on the ice. Carey is working really hard in physiotherapy in order to (eventually) come back.’’