BROSSARD, Que. – If coach Jacques Martin was feeling any heat at his Montreal Canadiens being one loss away from playoff elimination, he wasn’t showing it.
The veteran head coach got up Sunday morning, held a meeting with his players, watched video of Montreal’s 2-1 double overtime loss to the Boston Bruins from the night before and then was the picture of calm as he met with the media.
“I work hard at what I do and I do my best and don’t worry about those things,” Martin said of playoff pressure. “You enjoy these challenges.
“It’s the fun part of the job. I’ve had 25 years of it, so that helps. Not too many grey hairs yet, so that’s a good sign.”
Martin’s message for the day was to stay calm and confident even though the loss on Saturday night in Boston put the Bruins up 3-2 in their best-of-seven NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final.
Game 6 is set for Tuesday night at the Bell Centre (CBC, 7 p.m. ET), with Game 7 if necessary in Boston on Wednesday night.
Martin has been in the NHL since he was an assistant coach in Chicago in the late 1980s. He got his first head coaching job in 1986 with St. Louis and later worked for Quebec, Ottawa and Florida. He is in his 16th campaign as a head coach and this season he passed the 1,200-game mark and picked up his 600th win—putting him in the top 10 all-time.
What he has sees from Montreal-Boston thus far is a series that is too close to call just yet.
At no time was that more evident than on Saturday night, when the teams battled for four and a half periods before Nathan Horton scored for the Bruins at 9:03 of the second overtime. Brad Marchant had given Boston the lead at 4:33 of the third frame only to see Jeff Halpern tie it at 13:56.
Both teams had glittering chances to win it, and both goaltenders, Montreal’s Carey Price and Boston’s Tim Thomas, were exceptional.
The teams have each scored 12 goals through the first five games. Boston has outshot Montreal 177 to 165.
“That’s how close it is,” said Martin.
Montreal won the first two games in Boston but have now lost three in a row, the last two in overtime, so the Bruins have momentum.
But Martin looks to last year’s post-season, when Montreal won games in which they could have been eliminated fives times in seven-game wins over Washington and Pittsburgh before they were finally put away in Game 5 of the conference final by Philadelphia.
“We’re getting better game to game,” he said. “With the character the leadership and what we’ve overcome in the past, I’m sure we’ll be ready on Tuesday.
“There were a lot of positives from that game. We battled. We attacked. That’s competition. We had opportunities in overtime. The guys are positive and confident. I’m confident because of the way we’re playing. We’ll bring in a couple of adjustments, nothing major. We feel we have a good chance of winning.”
There are health concerns, however.
Rookie centre David Desharnais left in the first overtime with an apparent left leg or knee injury and defenceman James Wisniewski left in the second period with what looked like a sore back but returned during the first overtime looking better.
Martin gave no updates on either player, although there were reports Desharnais, who had a strong Game 5, may sit out Tuesday.
A surprise thus far is how relatively cleanly played the series has been.
These are two divisional rivals who ended the regular season in rancour after a fight-filled 8-6 game in Boston followed by an ugly incident in a 4-1 Montreal win in which a hit by Bruins captain Zdeno Chara caused Max Pacioretty to go head first into a stanchion, leaving the Canadiens winger with a concussion and a fractured vertebra.
But it has been one of the series with the least penalties called and none of the nasty incidents that have marked other series, where there have been suspensions and key players injured.
So far, there has been one fine—US$2,500 to Boston defenceman Andrew Ference for giving the one-finger salute to the Bell Centre crowd after a scoring a goal in Game 4.
There was Scott Gomez causing Chris Kelly to go face-first into a goal post that has left the Boston centre playing in a face cage, although it hasn’t slowed the former Ottawa Senator at all. There was a Benoit Pouliot charge that led to a fight with Ference in Game 3, but Pouliot hasn’t played since.
And of course there was Pacioretty’s Twitter message during Game 5 in which he joked that the overtime was longer than Marchant’s considerable schnozz, although Pacioretty, no button-nose himself, quickly tweeted an apology.
Special teams have slightly favoured Montreal, which is 2-for-16 on the power play while Boston is the only team yet to score with a man advantage at 0-for-15.
The Canadiens had a team meeting and were given the rest of the day off. They’ll skate on Monday.
It is the second time teams have had consecutive off-days in the series. The last time, between Games 3 and 4 in Montreal, the Bruins went to Lake Placid, N.Y., and the Canadiens took one day off without arranging any availability with the media. Martin was the only one made available on Sunday.