Julien defends goal-less Pacioretty

BROSSARD, Que. — Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien talked about keeping things in perspective heading into Game 5 of their playoff series with the New York Rangers.

That regular season scoring leader Max Pacioretty has yet to score in the first four games does not mean he is an underachiever, he said. And the team’s failure to start a war when goalie Carey Price was run over by Rick Nash does not mean the Canadiens are timid or don’t care.

“I’d like to put the context in the right perspective,” was how Julien put it on Wednesday, a day after a 2-1 defeat in New York evened the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final at 2-2.

The teams face off again Thursday night at the Bell Centre.

Price was not injured when he was bowled over as Nash took the puck hard to the net in the first period, but it was immediately compared by some to an incident in the opening game of the 2014 conference final when New York’s Chris Kreider took the all-star goalie out of the series in a skates-first crash.

The Canadiens on the ice at the time wisely opted not to jump on Nash, who took a goalie interference penalty.

“I know history makes it a little sensitive when you see that happen,” said Julien. “There’s a difference between running a goalie and going hard to the net.

“It’s part of the game. You have to read the situation. If it was intentional, I think you’d see a different reaction.”

Centre Steve Ott, who is not shy about getting physical when it is called for, said it wasn’t the time to risk nullifying a power play.

“Obviously, we’re here to protect Carey,” he said. “We’re here to protect each other as well. But you have to be smart in tough situations.”

Canadiens fans are sensitive to the toughness issue because for most of the last decade the team has been smaller than average and not very physical, but that was addressed with the arrival of defencemen Shea Weber and Jordie Benn and size was added up front in the form of Ott and Dwight King, not to mention gritty middleweight Andrew Shaw.

The Canadiens-Rangers matchup, featuring two teams known more for speed than muscle, has been surprisingly physical so far, but not so much to risk taking a penalty on a play like the Nash hit, even if the Rangers are 0-for-12 on the power play.

“You’ve got to do it verbally in the playoffs,” said defenceman Nathan Beaulieu. “I know everyone wants us to go and fight and stuff, but in the playoffs that’s how you turn it into a bad penalty that can cost you a series.

“You can’t retaliate. Nash isn’t a dirty player. He was going hard to the net. We have to take it upon ourselves not to let him drive to the net. That’s all I can say.”

Pacioretty, a 35-goal scorer in the regular season, has one assist in four playoff games, although he leads the team with 19 shots. The veteran left-winger has a history of slow starts in the playoffs. Each time, it seems, his character is called into question.

He wasn’t made available to the media on Wednesday, but Julien leapt to his captain’s defence.

“He’s a good player and whether you guys don’t think he’s done enough, for me internally, I think he’s done a lot and he’s got an opportunity to be better,” said Julien. “My job is to take the pressure off him while he’s getting pressure from elsewhere.

“That’s how I handle things.”

Pacioretty is also a streaky scorer, going stretches without a goal and then potting them in bunches.

“There’s no panic in Max’s game,” said Beaulieu. “He’s still confident.

“He’s still playing good hockey. Watch, one will go in and you’ll see Max take off to another level.”

The same can be said for some of New York’s top guns. First-line players Kreider and Derek Stepan have yet to score. Each team has scored only eight goals in the four games.

Note: Montreal defenceman Alexei Emelin is moving closer to a return after missing four with an undisclosed injury. He skated with the subs on Wednesday but still needs clearance from team doctors to play in a game, which could come as early as Thursday.

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