The Montreal Canadiens entered their Eastern Conference final series against the New York Rangers as slight favorites. They compiled four more points in the regular season than the Blueshirts, earned home ice advantage and were facing a goalie who, while one of the NHL’s elite, seemed to have a bugaboo about playing in their city.
Vegas liked the Habs marginally better, too.
Today, they’re massive underdogs – a fact Michel Therrien needs to leverage to the max if his team is to extend this series past four games.
The Canadiens coach could spend the next several days playing along with the fans and media, dissecting the Chris Kreider collision with Carey Price and bemoaning the fact his team is minus Canada’s pre-eminent stopper. That and $4 will get him a grande skinny Frappuccino (no whip cream) at Starbucks.
For starters, only one person truly knows if Kreider intended to make contact with Price and he’s denying it. The NHL, meantime, likely won’t institute polygraph tests anytime soon. And even if they did, Price would still be a spectator.
So Job 1 is to get over it, which Montreal seemed to do well in the early stages of Monday’s game. Unfortunately for them, Henrik Lundqvist seems to be over his fear of the Bell Centre.
Job 2 is for Therrien to create and nurture an “us-against-the-world” mindset in his dressing room. He can’t give his players an excuse to fail by blaming circumstance for the hole they’re in. Rather, he needs to appeal to their sense of pride, their brotherhood, their manhood.
He needs his players, more than ever, to compete for each other, to prove 7 billion people wrong (ok, maybe a 100 million or so), that they are indeed still good enough to triumph.
Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter has been masterful at fostering this guerilla psyche, particularly this playoff season. Twice, his club has overcome three-game, post-season losing streaks to advance to the next level. No matter what transpires, he has his charges believing there is a way out.
And if Therrien requires more guidance for a blueprint, he can look across the hallway at former Habs’ coach Alain Vigneault, who engineered a similar feat against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2. After initially blaming the NHL schedule for being unfair to his team, Vigneault used it (along with the inspiration of Martin St-Louis and stellar goaltending) to his advantage to climb from a 3-1 abyss.
Certainly, the Habs will need Dustin Tokarski to elevate his game and prove why he’s been a champion at every level. They’ll need to match or neutralize the Rangers’ speed and to shut down their power play. They’ll need disciplined play, opportunistic scoring and lucky bounces.
And they need to believe they’re the only ones in the world who think they have any chance to make it happen.