SPORTS

Dominated by Bolts in regular season, Canadiens say playoffs a different story

04/30/2015 05:25 EDT | Updated 08/08/2015 09:59 EDT
BROSSARD, Que. - The Montreal Canadiens got together for dinner to watch the Tampa Bay Lightning's 2-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings in the seventh game of their first round playoff series.

The team meal ahead of a playoff series is a tradition for head coach Michel Therrien, although this time, what he saw on the screen may not have gone down well.

Instead of facing the Red Wings, who the Canadiens owned in the regular season, they will be up against the Lightning, who won all five meetings with Montreal, outscoring them 21-8.

So, of course, the message Thursday was what happens in the regular season doesn't really count come playoff time.

"Playoff matchups are way different," said forward Max Pacioretty. "Every game is different.

"Everyone's talking how we play such good defence and they play such good offence, but we're trying to score and they're trying to play tight defence as well. Every game writes its own story. The only thing we can control is how hard we play; and being ready to face a team with that much skill."

Pacioretty pointed to last season, when Montreal lost three of four games against Tampa Bay but then swept them in the first round. Of course, Lightning goalie Ben Bishop missed that series with an injury and his backup, Anders Lindback, gave up 14 goals in four games.

Bishop got his first playoff experience in the first round and, while he was shaky early on, ended the series with a shutout. The six-foot-seven goalie has dominated Montreal in his career, posting a 10-1-2 record with a 1.53 goals-against average.

If that isn't enough challenge for a low-scoring team like Montreal, the Bolts offence also gives them fits. Superstar Steven Stamkos had five goals and seven points against the Canadiens, and the Triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat combined for another five goals.

Pacioretty said a key to stopping them will be spending more time playing in the Lightning's end. His fellow alternate captain Tomas Plekanec, who tends to play against the opponent's top centres, said the Canadiens can't get caught up choosing one poison over another.

"I don't think we'll focus on Johnson or Stamkos," said Plekanec. "We'll focus on ourselves and playing our game.

"If we do that, we'll make it hard on those guys, or whoever's on the ice, to score. You (media) talk about individual players but for us, it's all about team effort, team system, team game."

The Canadiens counter with Carey Price, a Hart Trophy candidate for his spectacular play in goal, and a team that excels at grinding out wins.

Therrien smiled when asked about the Lightning's dominance this season.

"We may be the only team with home ice advantage that is the underdog," he said. "We're up against an offensive power. It's a big challenge but, from experience, we know the playoffs is a different season."

Therrien said his team has been considered an underdog from the first day of training camp but managed to win 50 games and finish first in the Atlantic Division, two points ahead of Tampa Bay.

"Our team took a lot of criticism this year, but it's a group that always responds, that perseveres," he said. "Inside our group, it's a good source of motivation."

One area he hopes to improve is the power play, which went 1 for 20 in six first-round games against Ottawa.

There were experiments in practice with Jeff Petry playing the point alongside P.K. Subban while Andrei Markov moved to the second unit with Tom Gilbert. Lars Eller took turns with Alex Galchenyuk on left wing on the second forward unit.

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