The Montreal Canadiens will look to stave off elimination tonight in front of their home fans as the Senators return to town holding a 3-1 series lead. Montreal put forth their two best efforts of the series thus far at home, and will need to continue that trend tonight if they wish to live for another playoff day.
The Habs opened the series at the Bell Centre by hammering 50 shots at Senators goaltender Craig Anderson. Unforunately, Anderson was able to turn aside 48 of them and lead Ottawa to a 4-2 victory. The Habs would capture their only win of the series thus far in game two at home on the strength of a 3 goal second period, knotting the series with a 3-1 decision.
After failing to come away with a win in Ottawa, the Habs now face the unenviable task of trying to overcome a 3-1 series deficit. Hope s not all lost as they have been able to overcome such odds in the past.
In 2004 against the rival Boston Bruins and again in 2010 against the heavily favored Washington Capitals, Montreal was able to reel off three straight victories after being written off for falling into a 3-1 hole.
Injuries are beginning to take their toll of the Montreal Canadiens roster. Out for game five tonight will be Lars Eller, Brandon Prust, Ryan White and captain Brian Gionta in addition to Alexei Emelin who has been out since over a month. Most importantly however, is the status of goaltender Carey Price. Price was hurt as the buzzer sounded to end the third period of game four and he missed the short overtime that followed. He is listed as day to day so even if he makes his way to the Canadiens goal tonight it will be at less than one hundred percent.
If Price is unable to tend the net, the task will fall to Peter Budaj. Budaj had a tremendous season with Montreal, finishing with an 8-1-1 record in spot duty but he is yet to get the start in an NHL playoff game in his career.
It will not matter who is in net for the rest of the series if the Habs veterans can not find the scoresheet. Rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher have done all that can reasonably be asked of first year players getting their feet wet in the chaos that is the NHL playoffs. Highly paid veterans David Desharnais, Michael Ryder and Andrei Markov as well as Max Pacioretty must find a way to bring offense to the table in order for the Canadiens to have a chance of coming back to take out the Senators.
Markov’s spotty playoff history continues to haunt him as he notched 30 points in 48 regular season games but has been held pointless through four contests in the playoffs.
Desharnais has but one assist, coming on the first goal of the series. In his first taste of big game action since signing a lucrative contract extension, his paltry offensive numbers, one point, one shot are not enough for such a creative offensive player.
Ryder scored a big insurance goal in the Habs only victory, but the sniper has been mostly invisible otherwise. Just six shots on goal thus far, the streaky sniper could come alive at any moment and that moment has to be now if Montreal is to stay alive tonight. One of the Habs most seasoned playoff forwards has to find a way to break free and get open in the offensive zone. It doesn’t take many chances for Ryder to find the back of the net, the Newfoundland native needs to create the chances rather than standing around waiting for the perfect pass.
Pacioretty is getting his first taste of playoff action and has become yet another struggling offensive player with zero points in three games. After leading the Canadiens in regular season points with 39 including 15 goals in 44 games, Max is slumping at the worst time. Clearly battling some sort of upper body injury that kept him out of game 2, Pacioretty does not look like his regular season self. His speed remains but his bullet snap shot that he unleashed so often on opposing goalies off the rush has been absent all series. Montreal can not afford for Max to continue goalless, and if the patented Messier-like goals are not going to happen off the rush, he needs to use his speed, size and power to get to the net and create havoc in front of Anderson.
Pacioretty, Ryder and Markov all finished among Montreal’s top five regular season point scorers. Thus far in a combined eleven playoff games, they have managed one goal and one assist, both coming from Ryder.
With fellow offensive weapons Eller and Gionta on the shelf, Montreal needs a spark from at least one of its silent snipers to be successful tonight.
Even with all the injuries, the ingredients are in place for a comeback. It is now up to Michel Therrien to find the right mix to get a contribution from everyone. With their backs against the wall there are no excuses for any of the struggling stars to take a night off, and if they all show up to play the series is still there for the taking.
With Prust and Gionta injured in game four combined with Eller and White unlikely to return, tonight’s lineup will look something like this:
Bourque Plekanec Ryder
Pacioretty Desharnais Moen
Galchenyuk Halpern Gallagher
Blunden Dumont Armstrong