Habs look to buck historic trend vs. Lightning
Brian Gionta knows what happened the last two times the Montreal Canadiens opened a playoff series with a pair of wins on the road.
The most recent was in 2011, and the Boston Bruins stormed back to win Game 7 in overtime on Nathan Horton’s shot off a defenseman’s leg.
Before that was 2006, when the Canadiens took the opening two games in Carolina only to drop the next four, partly through losing star center Saku Koivu to a series-ending eye injury from an accidental high stick by Justin Williams in Game 4.
Both times, the team that came back to beat Montreal went on to win the Stanley Cup.
After taking the first two of the opening series against the Tampa Bay Lightning – 5-4 in Game 1 and 4-1 in Game 2 – Gionta doesn’t want history to repeat itself.
"It’s huge, but at the end of the day, we fell into that trap against Boston a few years back," the Canadiens’ captain said Saturday. "We won two games in their building and we came back and let off the gas a bit.
"So we need to make sure that our focus is on (Sunday) night and make sure we do what we did in the first two games."
Game 3 of the best-of-seven series is Sunday night at the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens didn’t skate Saturday after a late flight from Tampa, but the message from coach Michel Therrien and his staff was about taking care of business on home ice.
"We all understand that the farther you get in the playoffs the more difficult the games are to play," said Therrien. "We’re glad we’re back at home, but I like our focus.
"We have a business mentality. It’s about preparing ourselves for (the next game)."
Therrien’s team has had the edge for all but the first period of Game 2, when strong goaltending from Carey Price kept it scoreless until Montreal took control in the second frame on a power-play goal from David Desharnais and Rene Bourque’s first of the game.
Brendan Gallagher and Bourque added goals in the third before Teddy Purcell put Tampa Bay on the board with just under two minutes left on a power play with the goalie also pulled for an extra skater.
Desharnais’ goal broke a nine-game drought for the Montreal power play. The Canadiens have also been getting scoring from all four lines. Eight different forwards have scored, taking some pressure off the top unit of Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek.
Desharnais got his first goal in 12 career postseason games, while Pacioretty’s assist on the same tally was his first point in six career playoff games. The line has combined for 22 shots in the two games.
Montreal also took advantage of the absence of injured goalie Ben Bishop, beating Anders Lindback eight times in two games and adding another against Kristers Gudlevskis – the Latvian who made 55 stops in a 2-1 loss to Canada at the Sochi Olympics.
Gudlevskis let in one goal on three Montreal shots.
Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos has been held to two goals, both in the opener, and no assists – although he has nine shots on goal.
"There’s no use in feeling sorry for ourselves right now. We have to dig deep here," Stamkos said. "We’ve been through a lot of adversity, and this is just piling up right now. We found a way every time, and I expect the same."
The Canadiens are looking to win a playoff series for the first time since goalie Jaroslav Halak’s heroics got them to the 2010 Eastern Conference finals. They are 49-5 when leading a best-of-seven 2-0, but have lost three of the last four in that situation.
"They’re going to make adjustments," said Gionta. "It’s the playoffs and you’ve got to try to read what they’re going to do, make adjustments on the fly, and see what happens.
"I thought we did a fairly good job of that (Friday) night. We need to do it again."
Gionta’s line with center Lars Eller and left-winger Bourque has been particularly solid. Eller entered the postseason with two assists in eight career games, but now leads the team with a goal and two assists.
Bourque was a target for fans all through a sub-par regular season with nine goals in 63 games in which he was made a healthy scratch for the first time in his career. He sat out five straight games in March.
He may get a warmer reception after two solid games in Tampa, including his first career playoff game with more than one goal.
"Since he’s back in our lineup, before the playoffs, Rene Bourque was playing the way we expect him to play," said Therrien. "We don’t judge players only on goals and assists.
"What I like is that he’s engaged in the game. He’s physical. He’s going hard to the net and he got rewarded."