NEW YORK â€” Claude Julien is not living in the past. He hopes that his team isn’t, either.
Julien’s Montreal Canadiens lead the New York Rangers 2-1 in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final following a dominant 3-1 win in Game 3 Sunday night. Game 4 is set for Tuesday night in New York, and Montreal’s head coach wants his team prepared to press their advantage.
“Today is another day,” Julien said during his media availability at Madison Square Garden Monday afternoon. “We can’t sit here day after day talking about what happened.
“We have to start thinking about what needs to be done. I think we did a great job (Sunday) night. They’re going to come out next game a lot better and we need to be ready for that.
“We need to be ready to be at least as good as we were in the last game. That’s where our focus has to be and not so much about sitting on all the good things we’re talking about. We have to move on.”
To that end, the Canadiens opted to hold a video session Monday. The Rangers held a full team practice in which rookie right winger Pavel Buchnevich participated in power play drills, although New York coach Alain Vigneault would not reveal if he was contemplating making changes to a stagnant roster.
“I’m looking at all our options,” said Vigneault, who later added, “We have quite a few options upfront and on ‘D.’
“We’ve got nine defencemen (so) it’s between those nine and I’ve got 15 forwards. I’m going to decide (between) those 15 forwards.”
Whereas he was circumspect about his player personnel decision making process, Vigneault stressed his team needed to improve its puck management following a Game 3 in which the Rangers had 21 giveaways.
“We need to do a better job,” Vigneault said. “We had a lot of unforced turnovers (in Game 3) that we need to correct.”
The Canadiens’ defensive structure in the neutral and defensive zones eliminated New York’s greatest asset â€” its collective team speed. The Canadiens clogged the middle and took away passing lanes, so the Rangers spent much of Game 3 having harmless dump-ins intercepted at the blue line or cleared out by Carey Price and his defencemen.
New York finished the game with 21 shots, the majority of which were from the perimeter. Eighteen of the Rangers’ 21 shots came at even strength and the other three were on the power play. Only Brady Skjei’s first career playoff goal at 17:04 of the third came between Price and his 17th career shutout in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“It (was) a lot about what we were doing,” Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty said. “It got them frustrated and got them off their game. They’re a fast team and they need to have success by skating through the neutral zone with speed. We’re trying to take that away from them as they’re trying to do with us because we play so similar.
“That takes a full group. It starts with good back pressure and that leads to a good gap. It was easy on the D-men to have that good gap because guys were doing a really good job … of back pressuring them, forcing them to run right into our ‘D’ early in the neutral zone. That’s the way we try to play. They try to play similar and it’s frustrating to play against.”
New York’s giveaways â€” oddly Montreal was only credited with six takeaways in Game 3 â€” and inability to sustain offensive pressure allowed the Canadiens to counterattack. The Canadiens finished with 29 shots on goal and 51 attempted shots Sunday night. Over the course of the series, Montreal has significant advantages in shots on goal (118-90) and total attempted shots (222-176).
That the Canadiens have just seven goals is due the play of Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers goaltender has a .941 save percentage and 2.28 goals-against average while working with a nearly nonexistent margin for error.
“He’s played pretty well,” Julien said. “Give him credit. He’s been pretty good in this series, so I think right now we’re just playing our game and doing everything we can to score some goals knowing that their goaltender is really playing well for them.”
Denis P. Gorman, The Canadian Press