MONTREAL—It’s time to see what this Montreal Canadiens team is really made of.
General manager Marc Bergevin made every bold move in the book this year. His biggest one was trading a P.K. Subban entering the heart of his prime for a Shea Weber much closer to the tail end of his.
He also pushed a talented-but-never-won-anything Lars Eller out for a gritty two-time-Stanley-Cup-winning Andrew Shaw, signed the most talented player not playing the NHL in Alexander Radulov, traded for cagey veterans Steve Ott and Dwight King to up the sandpaper quotient on the team, and he even fired the coach he called a "foxhole friend" in Michel Therrien to hire a consensus upgrade in Claude Julien. He did it all to give the Canadiens one of two opportunities they have to chase the Cup while superstar goaltender Carey Price is only taking up $6.5 million in salary cap space.
Failure at this stage of the game isn’t an option, but the Canadiens are going to be staring it—and elimination from these playoffs—in the face at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
"We’re going to learn what type of character we have," said Brendan Gallagher after Thursday’s 3-2 overtime loss in Game 5 put the Canadiens down 3-2 in their series versus the New York Rangers. "If you don’t have character, this is the time you’re going to doubt yourself. If you do have character, this is the time where the belief is going to come out."
It’s going to take more than that to overcome these odds and this opponent.
History—according to Elias Sports Bureau—gives the Canadiens about a 20 per cent chance of winning the next two games. And in order to do it, they first have to ride into enemy territory and steal away the confidence of a galvanized Rangers group.
"To get through this we’re going to need more from a lot of guys," said Julien on Thursday. "It’s going to be time for everybody, certain players to elevate their game and have that confidence and that desire to be better. There’s no doubt when you lose games and you’re behind 3-2, you can’t be satisfied as a team, and there’s certain players we all know can give us a little bit more and hopefully that’s going to happen."
Price will have to outplay Henrik Lundqvist for the first time in this series. He’s been great, with a .936 save percentage and a 1.82 goals against average, but it would be a stretch to say he’s outdone the King. Up front, talented forwards Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk need to break through. The former led the team with 35 goals this season, and the latter used his game-breaking ability to score 30 last season, but both are stuck at zero goals through five games of this series. And it’s going to take all hands on deck to shut down New York’s varied attack.
Julien believes the Canadiens can do it.
"If I don’t have confidence in my team, I have no business being here," he said. "I believe in this team because they’ve showed it numerous times in coming from behind, they’ve shown a lot of character in the past. This is their chance to show it again."
No team won more games by coming from behind than the Canadiens did this season, but this task is monumental. And there’s too much hanging in the balance for them to not follow through.
Too many sacrifices have been made to get the Canadiens to this point, and there are no guarantees they’ll get another shot like this next season. Even if they make next year’s playoffs, there are no guarantees Price and Co. will be as healthy to make a run as they are right now (they don’t have a single injury to speak of).
"I think everyone knows exactly what needs to be done," said Price.
We’ll find out whether or not they have what it takes.