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Game 3 Preview: Brian Bannan

May 6, 2015, 2:52 PM ET [1301 Comments]
Habs Talk
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“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”
William Shakespeare. Henry V.

The last time we saw the Montreal Canadiens, they filed despondently off the ice with the Bell Centre silent and empty. A game that had started with such promise had devolved into a nightmare with all the worst case scenarios realized. Tampa scored at will on their once dormant powerplay. Steve Stamkos found the tiniest of openings and got off the schneid. Montreal lost their collective cool and became the authors of their own demise. It was a dark night for Les Canadiens.

So how does your Habs glass look with a couple days to collect your thoughts? If you are a glass full type of fan, the scenario is simple: The Canadiens melted down. No biggie. The Habs bring the type of effort they showed in game 1 and get a bounce or two and they can win game 3. All of a sudden, they are right back in the series. If your glass is empty, you have seen enough. Tampa has won 7 straight against your Canadiens and the first two games have shown you no signs that the Habs can break this trend. You are probably just hoping Montreal can avoid a sweep; no easy task as the Lightning have been beasts on home ice this season.

This series has taken the form of a bizzarro world version of last year’s battle. Last year the Canadiens struck in game 1 overtime on Tampa’s home ice to draw first blood. They watched the Lightning melt down and battle the officials over missed calls. The end result was a 4-0 sweep by the Canadiens. The games were closer than the series might indicate, but it was decisive.

The bounces have not gone the Habs’ way so far this series. They got a tough call on the overtime winner and followed that up with a game where they seemed more intent on settling scores than evening the score. The two day layoff could not have come at a better time for Montreal.

At this point in the season, there are no secrets. Montreal is going to play a tight checking game and count on converting on a couple of their chances. All season long, they have been content to win games 1-0 or 2-1. Asking for the Habs to break out and score 3 or 4 goals at this point is unrealistic. They are going to play it tight, Carey Price will have to be excellent, and if they can find some puck luck, they are right back in this series.

The first 10 minutes will be crucial. If Montreal can weather the storm and take the crowd out of it, they will have accomplished their first goal. They need to establish their game, choke off the neutral zone and force the Lightning to defend. They have played the Lightning even for long stretches of this series so far. The problem is that when Tampa gets a bounce or a goal, the Canadiens’ energy level plummets. It is as though they are resigned to the fate of not getting bounces against this Lightning team. The Habs opponent tonight resides both in the Lightning dressing room and between their ears.

So what will it take tonight? In the playoffs, the cliché says, that you win with your best players being your best players. So far Tampa has seen strong performances from the Triplets and Ben Bishop. Stamkos is on the score sheet. Their best players have risen to the forefront.

The Canadiens cannot claim the same. Carey Price was outdueled in game 1 and hung out to dry in game 2. Plekanec, Gallagher, Galchenyuk and Eller all have yet to produce. Pacioretty scored once, but needs to be a factor every shift. PK has been spinning and juking, but has not been able to finish off any of his offensive forays. They have all created chances but so far have not been able to convert.

The one constant under Therrien’s second regime has been the Habs response to adversity. Down 2-0 against the Rangers, without their all world goalie, The Habs were able to find the resolve to push back and push New York to the limit. Last spring, down 3-2 against Boston at home and later, facing a game 7 in the Boston Garden, this same group was able to play their best game when only their best would suffice. They have shown that they have the leadership and the character to come back when most have counted them out.

So here we are, once more unto the breach. If you are a betting man, bet on the Habs producing the effort they will need to win this game. But will they win? The Habs will need a number of things to break their way. First, they will need their big guns to shoot bullets, not blanks. Second, they will need to keep Tampa’s attack in check and avoid the type of penalties they took last game. This is perhaps easier said than done. Finally, when you talk about your best players, on the Habs, you are talking about Carey Price. Tonight, the Habs and their fans will be looking to “The royal captain of this ruin'd band” to lead them to victory. They will be searching for a little Carey in the night.

If the MVP has some more magic in his bag, this may turn into a series yet.
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