The best way to describe the mood in the Canadiens’ dressing room after Thursday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Rangers was delusional.
There were the usual clichés about how the game could have gone either way in overtime, but there was only one predictable outcome from the way the Canadiens played from the start of the third period until Mika Zibanejad redirected a shot from Chris Kreider for the winning goal.
“There were opportunities to close out the game and (Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist) made some good saves and they got a bounce on that goal,” captain Max Pacioretty said. “But nothing we can do about it now. We have an opportunity now to show what we have in this room. We’ve come back a lot this year and hopefully we can do it in this series as well.
“It could have gone either way, it really could have,” added Pacioretty.
No, it couldn’t.
Philip Danault hit a post early in the third period, but the Canadiens didn’t register their first shot on goal until Pacioretty fired one just past the 10-minute mark. As for the overtime, that was all New York, with the Rangers outshooting the Canadiens 10-3.
The Canadiens took a 2-1 lead after the first period, but coach Claude Julien said the seeds of destruction were sown in the second period.
“In the second half of that period, we spent less time (in the Rangers’ zone) and when we got the puck in there, it came right back out,” Julien said. “We spent more time chasing and defending than we did controlling the puck and that can be tiring. They got some energy in the second half and they brought it into the overtime like we did a few games ago.”
The loss left the Canadiens trailing the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final 3-2 and face a must-win situation Saturday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m., CBC, TVA Sports, TSN-690 Radio).
Brendan Gallagher and Artturi Lehkonen scored the Montreal goals and, without naming names, Julien said the Canadiens need more from their top players.
“In order to get through this, we’re going to need more from a lot of guys,” said Julien. “It’s time for certain players to elevate their games and have that confidence and 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 you know there are certain players who can give a little bit more.”
That list starts with Pacioretty. He’s the playoff leader with 24 shots, but has only one assist. Alex Galchenyuk has earned a promotion, but he has only three assists. Andrew Shaw, who was brought in because of his playoff experience, has no points.
Gallagher assured reporters that Pacioretty will break out of his slump and he tried Thursday with five shots on goals, but six others were blocked and he missed the net twice.
“The message is to focus on that game; you can’t be thinking about Game 7, because Game 7 won’t happen until you take care of Game 6,” said Julien. “The pressure is on them to close out the series in their building and for us, it’s to survive and force a Game 7.”
“We just got to tune out all of this noise,” Pacioretty added. “We got to be disappointed that it was an opportunity blown, but excited at a big challenge that we can show our character here.”