MONTREAL â€” With his team facing elimination, captain Max Pacioretty says it’s the perfect time for the Montreal Canadiens to show what they’re made of.
The Canadiens have their backs against the wall after dropping Game 5 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final series 3-2 in overtime against the New York Rangers on Thursday.
Mika Zibanejad scored 14:22 into the extra frame to give the Rangers a 3-2 series lead. Game 6 is Saturday in New York.
“We have to be disappointed that it was an opportunity blown, but excited at a big challenge that we can show our character here,” said Pacioretty, who led the team in regular season goals but hasn’t scored in the playoffs. “We came back a lot this year, we’ve shown that, and we’ve got an opportunity to show that in this series.
“We have to tune out all this noise. We’ve done an OK job of tuning out the negativity thus far. It’s important, especially in Montreal.”
The Habs held a 2-1 series lead following Game 3 but are on the brink of elimination after dropping back-to-back games.
The Canadiens were the better team for the first half of Game 5, jumping ahead to a deserved 2-1 lead after the first period. The home side got goals from Artturi Lehkonen and Brendan Gallagher.
The shots were 16-9 in favour of Montreal after the first.
The Canadiens led 21-10 in shots at one point in the second period, but failed to convert on consecutive power plays early in the middle frame.
That’s when the tide turned.
The Rangers upped the pressure and got an equalizer from Brady Skjei at the end of the second.
Montreal was lacklustre in the third, needing more than 10 minutes to register its first shot of the period. It was more of the same in overtime, as the Rangers dominated the extra frame that was capped off by Zibanejad’s winner.
The shots were 36-36 at the final horn.
“We’re going into a situation here where we’re going to learn a lot about our group,” said Gallagher. “We’re going to learn what type of character we have. If you don’t have character, this is the time where you’re going to doubt yourself. If you have character, this is the time that belief is going to come out of your group.
“We’ll see what we have, but we’re pretty confident in the guys we have here.”
The Canadiens made a habit of clawing their way back into games in the regular season. Montreal led the league in third-period comebacks, winning 11 games when trailing after two periods.
Coach Claude Julien hopes that same resilience and never-say-die attitude carries over into the current playoff series with New York.
“I believe in this team,” said Julien. “They’ve shown it throughout the year, coming from behind. They’ve shown a lot of character in the past. This is their chance to show it again.”
The team that scored first had won every game in the series, but that trend was broken in Game 5 as Montreal netted the first goal but lost the match.
Since 2002, the Canadiens have been down 3-2 in a playoff series on nine separate occasions. Montreal came back to win the series four times.
“You can’t be thinking about Game 7 until you take care of Game 6,” said Julien. “We have to put our energy there. The pressure is on them to close the series. For us, it’s to survive. The focus has to be on Game 6.”
Notes: New York finished 0 for 2 on the power play. The Rangers are now 0 for 14 with the man advantage in this series. â€¦ Alexei Emelin returned from injury for Montreal. He finished with seven hits.
Kelsey Patterson, The Canadian Press