MONTREAL – The forgotten man cast a solitary figure, twisting and turning his way around the practice ice on an injured right knee. Alex Galchenyuk skated until sweat poured down his face on Sunday afternoon, trying to work his way back for a Montreal Canadiens game that hasn’t yet been added to the schedule.
It was both a reminder of what could be and what might have been.
A healthy Galchenyuk would certainly have helped the cause against the Boston Bruins this spring. For that matter, so too would have an overtime goal in Game 4 or the ability to shut things down after building a two-goal lead in Game 2.
However, none of that matters now. The Canadiens need to approach Monday’s Game 6 with a mindset that has been hammered into them all season long. The slogan “NO excuses/PAS d’excuses” appears on the wall of every dressing room where they set up camp.
“We’re coming to play at home, we’re well aware of the challenge we’re facing and we need to look at it as a positive,” coach Michel Therrien said.
It is entirely possible – perhaps even plausible – that Boston’s best is too much for Montreal to handle. That was the prevailing theory heading into the series. And the Bruins will be mindful of repeating 2011, when they lost a Game 6 at the Bell Centre and were stretched to overtime in Game 7 before eventually moving on.
Boston delivered its best performance of this particular series on Saturday night, literally and figuratively flexing its muscles in the process. There was an air of satisfaction in the dressing room afterwards. You could feel the confidence.
Now on the precipice of a third trip to the Eastern Conference final in four years, it was as if everything was as it should be. Montreal must find a way to disrupt that train of thought. Brian Gionta asserted that “for the most part in this series, we’ve outplayed them,” but the Habs captain may simply ascribe to the power of positive thought.
“We feel comfortable,” he added.
There would be more reason for confidence if they weren’t entering the battle with a damaged pistol. Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais still haven’t scored in this entire series while Thomas Vanek has just five shots in five games so far. Even though two of those were tip-in goals, it still isn’t good enough.
While there is always the chance the Habs can win consecutive games without their big shooters producing, the odds aren’t particularly high. The team has gone 147 minutes 27 seconds – dating back to the second period of Game 3 – since it was able to score on Tuukka Rask at even strength. Defenceman P.K. Subban already has four goals against the Bruins and Carey Price has done his job in net.
They need some help.
“This series really comes down to depth,” Vanek said. “We need everyone and I’m part of that group, so obviously we’ve got to raise our game.”
With a Guillotine dangling overhead, we will learn something about the Habs. There isn’t much historically to instruct on how the key members of this team will react to the moment. It might even take Price stealing a game to extend the series.
Therrien has been like a man madly trying to squeeze more juice out of a lemon in the matchup against Boston. He has made changes to his lineup every single game and has yet to ice the same 22-man group at any point.
Expect more changes on Monday. Putting Brandon Prust in for Daniel Briere didn’t have much effect on Game 5 and could easily be reversed. More speed could be added if bruising defenceman Douglas Murray was taken out for Francis Bouillon. If they wanted to be bold, 21-year-old blue-liner Nathan Beaulieu could even be an option.
“We have to give the Bruins a lot of credit,” Therrien said. “It was the best team in the regular season and they don’t give you much space. It’s nothing different than what we expected. Today we’re trying to find solutions to generate some offence 5-on-5.
“It’s a challenge.”
There may be some solutions.
Desharnais suggested that his line with Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher started to wear down Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. They spent most of Saturday’s game facing him and the pint-sized Habs centre thinks they started to tire him out with pressure on the forecheck.
“When you do that, he’s just another defenceman,” Desharnais said.
In theory, Game 6 is just another game. Of course, it is one that carries huge consequences for a Habs team that has captured the excitement of an entire city and doesn’t want the ride to end.
“You play all year to be in this situation and to have a big game at home,” Desharnais said. “It’s fun. We need to have fun with it.”