BROSSARD, Que. — The Montreal Canadiens can expect a hero’s welcome from the 21,273 in the seats when they bring home booty in the form of a two-game series lead for their Bell Centre fans.
Even among the most die-hard, few expected sixth-seeded Montreal to take the first two games of their best-of-seven NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final series in Boston.
Now they have a chance to clamp a vice on the series with a win over the Bruins in Game 3 tonight (CBC, 5 p.m.), but captain Brian Gionta wants his teammates to know they can’t start the party just yet.
“We got the two games but we can’t get overconfident here,” Gionta said after a team meeting Sunday at their suburban training centre. “They’re a good team and they finished where they did in the regular season (third in the conference, seven points better than Montreal) for a reason.
“They’re a hard team to play against. It’s making sure that we realize that it’s going to be a really hard game to win. They’re going to come out hard, come out ready. Any time you’re up in a series it becomes harder.”
A 2-0 lead is unfamiliar territory for the current group of Canadiens, who made their name last spring when they came from behind to upset Washington and Pittsburgh in the first two rounds before falling to Philadelphia in the conference final.
Now they need to show killer instinct against an underperforming Bruins team that keeps hearing about how their club has never come back from an 0-2 deficit to win a best-of-seven series in 26 tries, how they were 0-2-1 in Montreal this season, and how the Canadiens are 24-8 all-time against them in playoff series.
The Bruins’ top line of centre David Krejci with Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton is being roasted in the Boston media for its tame play (each is minus-2 with no points), and Horton was demoted to the third line in the third period Saturday night in favour of Rich Peverley.
The defence is being scorched for its frequent giveaways (Boston has 26 in the series to six for Montreal).
And it doesn’t help that goaltender Tim Thomas hasn’t been sharp while Montreal’s Carey Price has stopped 65-of-66 shots in two games and that Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara missed Game 2 with what the team said was a case of dehydration. Chara made the trip to Montreal, but coach Claude Julien gave no update on his condition.
The Bruins are reeling. They were booed off the ice twice at the TD Garden and Boston fans chanted for Julien’s head.
The B’s must certainly be angry, and Gionta doesn’t want his team to start taking them lightly.
“It’s nice to get back home but we can’t change our game,” he said. “We have to play the same — stay patient with things. There’s still a long series left to be played.
“We don’t have to impress anyone. At this time of year it’s all about getting the win, no matter how you get it.”
In both games so far, Montreal got an early lead and then played patience, checking the Bruins, waiting for turnovers, staying fresh with short shifts, controlling the front of their net and blocking 46 shots in two games.
In Game 1, Gionta scored 2:44 into the first period. In Game 2, it was Michael Cammalleri after just 43 seconds.
They used the same formula several times during last year’s playoffs as well, but they can’t expect it to happen in every game.
“It’s just being ready, mentally prepared, for the start of the game,” Gionta said of the early goals. “Trying to initiate the play, not waiting or sitting back to see what’s going to unfold.
“But you get some good bounces too. Whenever you’re playing with a lead you’re able to stay patient within your game plan. You don’t have to deviate from it and extend yourself. When you get in trouble is when you’re taking risks to try to get back in a game or make something happen.”
For coach Jacques Martin, a key factor thus far for Montreal has been leadership, particularly from the five players who have won Stanley Cups with other clubs — Gionta and Scott Gomez with New Jersey, Hal Gill with Pittsburgh, Travis Moen with Anaheim and Brent Sopel with Chicago.
They set the tone on a team with a large group of youngsters, including rookies P.K. Subban, Lars Eller, David Desharnais and Ryan White, in an emotionally challenging series.
The Canadiens went 4-2-0 against Boston in the regular season, but their last two visits to Boston ended in a fight-filled 8-6 setback and a 7-0 blowout loss. There was concern the Canadiens, who have a number of smaller than average forwards, would be intimidated. But they kept their heads and it was the Bruins who looked off their game.
“The Bruins are a good team and we haven’t been all over them,” said 23-year-old White, a former Western Hockey League all-star from Brandon, Man. “We’ve had Price making big saves and guys blocking shots. It’s a playoff series out there. By no means are they out of it and by no means do we think we’ve won this series. We have to be better in Game 3 and that’s what we plan to be.”
A handful of Canadiens skated — including defenceman Jaroslav Spacek, Weber, backup goalie Alex Auld, so-far unused Paul Mara and injured Jeff Halpern. Kostitsyn did not skate and there was no update on his foot injury suffered in Game 1. Later, injured players Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and Max Pacioretty skated, although none is expected back any time soon.
After Game 3, the Bruins will spend two nights in Lake Placid, N.Y. — skating at the 1980 U.S. Miracle On Ice Rink — before returning for Game 4 on Thursday.
Shot-blocking ace Sopel grinned when asked if Price would buy his defencemen dinner after the season the way a football quarterback often treats his offensive line. “Nothing yet but you can bring that up with him. I wouldn’t mind a dinner out of it.”