TAMPA, Fla. - To get back into their series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Montreal Canadiens hope to duplicate their hot start from Game 2, stay out of the penalty box and forget about the past.
That's a tall order, and history is not on their side.
Of the 100 teams that have fallen behind two games to none on home ice in NHL history, just 27 came back to win the series, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Canadiens face those long odds going into Game 3 Wednesday night at Amalie Arena.
"To be down two games obviously, you've kind of dug yourself a little bit of a hole, but we still have a lot of belief in our locker-room and our guys that we have," defenceman Tom Gilbert said on a conference call Monday. "We have elite goaltending, and I think if we just keep sticking to it, we know we can beat this team. It doesn't matter how many times they beat us throughout the regular season, Game 1, Game 2."
The Lightning have won all seven meetings with the Habs so far in 2014-15, counting five in the regular season. It's a major difference from a year ago, when Montreal swept Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper couldn't explain his team's dominance this season against the Habs and pointed out that five of the seven games were close. That kind of lopsided record is a surprise, but he has learned in his young NHL career that it's possible.
"I think sometimes teams have certain teams' number," Cooper said on a conference call. "Some teams match up well against other teams and vice-versa. So far our matchup with Montreal this season has worked in our favour, whether it's been the timing of playing them or just our personnel. Fortunately for us it's continued into the playoffs."
It may be easy for the Habs to ignore the regular season, but their 2-0 series deficit has a direct impact on the present. Game 1 was an overtime loss, but eight minor penalties contributed to a 6-2 blowout in Game 2 on Sunday night.
Coach Michel Therrien said his team's five-on-five play has been "really sharp." The Habs were rolling for the first 10 minutes Sunday night, and players said the key to maintaining that kind of start is avoiding penalty trouble.
"We seemed like we were carrying the play and then all of a sudden we got into some penalty trouble and then the momentum switched," forward Torrey Mitchell said. "There's so many momentum switches in the game, so if we feel like we're carrying the play, we can't be taking stupid penalties."
Forward Brandon Prust thrust himself into the spotlight by taking three of those minor penalties, fighting Braydon Coburn and getting a 10-minute and a game misconduct. He then accused referee Brad Watson of swearing at him and said Watson "tries to play God."
Therrien said he'd deal with Prust internally and that the overall discipline issue was a one-game "mistake" that the Habs were ready to move on from. The Lightning scored four power-play goals in Game 2 and don't anticipate having that many chances in Game 3.
"I expect them to be a little bit more disciplined," Tampa Bay centre Brian Boyle said on a conference call Monday. "They're not going to want to put us on the power play as many times as they did (in Game 2)."
Mitchell said he and his teammates have to work on being more composed, watch their sticks and not get caught behind opponents where penalties are more likely to occur.
The Habs are very much behind in the series with an extra day before back-to-back games Wednesday and Thursday in Tampa. Therrien hopes the extra time and a season's worth of adversity will help.
"The one thing that I respect about my team is that they always respond the right way," he said.
After flying to Tampa on Monday, Gilbert and Mitchell expressed a quiet confidence about the Habs' situation.
"By no means do we feel like we're done," Mitchell said. "We're excited about the next game, and that's where our focus is at right now."
Note — David Desharnais did not travel with the team, but Therrien did not rule out the possibility of the centre playing in Game 3.
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