BOSTON — The Canadiens may have won Game 1, but the message on Friday was clear: They have to be better if they plan on winning this series.
“We’re happy that we won Game 1,” said Thomas Vanek, “but I don’t think any of us are happy with how we won it. So we just need to all improve by tomorrow, and I think we will.”
The Canadiens withstood a 51-shot barrage from the Bruins, and goaltender Carey Price put on one of the most impressive performances of his postseason career in order to keep his team in it. But Montreal doesn’t intend on making him do that again.
The postseason is all about adjustments, and Boston won’t be the only team making them ahead of Game 2. The Canadiens, in their own words, know they dodged a bullet to come out of TD Garden with a win on Thursday, and they know exactly what they need to do to keep the good vibes rolling.
“We just have to do a better job of sustaining puck management in their zone and creating zone time,” said Brendan Gallagher. “I think they did a really good job on their side of hemming us in and creating that momentum, especially in their building. We have to kind of counteract that and hem them in their end and make sure we wear them down that way.”
For defenseman Mike Weaver, the list of things his team needs to improve is long.
“I think there’s room for improvement in every situation,” he said. “I think going from our power play, to our penalty kill, to our five-on-five or four-on-four. I think there are areas for improvement, and I think we’re a good enough team that we’re able to correct that pretty quick.”
It wasn’t incredibly surprising to the Habs that they didn’t play up to their standards in Game 1 — they were, after all, coming off a 10-day layoff after sweeping the Lightning out of the first round. During a layoff, you can work on skills and physical fitness; you can’t work on compete level.
“That was 10 days that we haven’t competed, haven’t played a playoff game,” Therrien said. “It’s not always about execution; it’s not always about conditioning, because as a coach and as players, you get a chance to work on those things. It’s the compete level that you don’t have the chance to work on that much, and it showed yesterday. So that’s why I know our compete level is going to be better tomorrow.”
Now that they have a Game 1 win under their belts, they feel as though they can move on and focus on the next task at hand: winning Game 2.
“I don’t like the word momentum,” Weaver said. “But I think having that many days off, getting that first game under our belt, kind of get the rhythm going again, I think is obviously great. Obviously everybody’s feeling pretty confident. We were confident before this series, we’re confident now and we just got to play within ourselves.”
The Canadiens aren’t understating the importance of Thursday’s win. They are just trying to straddle the fine line between having confidence and knowing that there is a long list of things they can do better.
“I thought we played an average game, which in playoffs doesn’t work,” Weaver said. “And luckily, we had a goalie that was playing an amazing game.”
And they know that in order to withstand the Bruins’ attack and win this series, they have no choice but to be better.
“The job’s not done,” Gallagher said. “We want to try and take two [on the road], but to come in here and take one game, for sure, and take back home ice advantage for the time being, is big for us. But we know we’re not taking our foot off the gas pedal. We know we have to be much better, and if we play the way we did last night, we probably won’t come out with too many wins.
“We know it’s going to be a battle; they’re saying the same thing. We expect it to be a long series, and that’s what you prepare for. For us, we know we need to be better than we were last night. We made some mistakes, and Carey was there to bail us out, and we don’t want to lean on him as much as we did. We want to help him out a little bit more and make it a little bit easier and spend some more time in their end.
Afternoon Game Looming
The Canadiens have now won five straight to start off the playoffs, and in total, they have trailed for less than four minutes in all five games.
Given the fact that Montreal shares a widespread belief that they can be much better, that’s a little scary.
“This is crucial,” Therrien said. “You want to take leads, you want to have a good start, and this is the playoffs. I thought our start was good. We set the tone, but yesterday was a little bit different. Like I said, I felt that we were a team that showed that we haven’t played for 10 days. And there’s two good news.
“First of all, the first good news is we found a way to win. That’s the most important thing when you get to the playoffs. Like I mentioned to our team, the second good news is we know we could be better.”
And they’ll have to do it despite a 12:30 PM start in Game 2.
“Hey, we have no choice,” Therrien said with a smile. “Prepare for an early start.”
Because Game 1 went to two overtimes and an afternoon game looms on Saturday, the Canadiens held an optional skate on Friday. Only players who did not play on Thursday night took part. The rest of the players attended a team meeting, hit the gym and conducted their own preparation for Game 2.
Some of the players, however, don’t mind the early start. You can count Gallagher among them.
“I don’t mind the early starts — you just wake up and go right to the game,” he said. “I don’t mind the early wakeup. I think waking up, getting one meal and going to the rink and playing — I really enjoy doing it.”
Weaver, too, is not concerned about the earlier start.
“It’s different, playing in the afternoon,” he said. “It’s all about preparation. We’re all professionals, and it’s a big Game 2, and everybody’s going to be ready.”
Shuffling the Lines
The Canadiens may have staked out to a 2-0 lead over the first two periods of Game 1, but Therrien still wasn’t happy with the play of all his forwards. As a result, top-liner Vanek was demoted to the fourth line to try to generate some offensive momentum.
Vanek finished the game a minus-1 with one missed shot in just under 19 minutes of ice time.
“I think especially last night — I thought as a line, even as a team, I don’t think we played well,” he said. “Carey carried us for the whole game, and then stole us the game. And then Subby [P.K. Subban] stepped up and made a big goal. So I think we’re not ignorant to us being better as a line, and then myself as an individual.”
Vanek said Therrien doesn’t need to send him a message — he’s well aware that he needs to be better against the Bruins in order for the Canadiens to emerge victorious from this series.
“I think when things aren’t going well, you’re going to change lines,” he said. “So obviously, there is a message there, for sure, but again, I think i have to be better as an individual, and I think as a line, we just have to do more.”
Therrien, too, said he isn’t going to waste time driving home the point with Vanek. The winger knows improvements must be made — as does the rest of his roster. But being the guy who is known as a Bruins Killer, he knows how much of a difference he can make if he is at his best. In 55 career games versus Boston, he is a plus-22 with 30 goals and 32 assists for 62 points.
“I’m not worried,” Therrien said, “and we’re glad we have Tomas Vanek in our lineup because he could be a dangerous guy for the other teams.
“I don’t need to speak to him; he understands. As a coach, you have to make the decision to try to find the right solution to get your team going, to get the maximum of your hockey team, and that’s coaching. That’s part of coaching. … Sometimes, you got to — cannot be afraid to make some changes, and this is how we do things. And we might see those things again tomorrow.”
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