Sometimes what you really need is a moment to catch your breath.
It’s not a new idea by any means, but when your hockey team, up 3-1 in an elimination game in before a call-the-cops noisy crowd, gives up a couple of quick goals, the coaching manual says it’s time to make the “T” with your hands.
Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien’s decision to call timeout after a wild sequence that saw the Tampa Bay Lightning roar back from a two-goal third-period deficit was what the Habs needed to settle down.
Even for a veteran team, the playoffs are a big deal, and the idea of sweeping an opponent for the first time since 1993 – a year engraved in Montreal fans’ hearts and on a certain silver trophy – may have crept into an otherwise focused squad.
“I think we could smell the next round, and we got a little too passive. We were back on our heels, they made a great push . . . that timeout calmed us down a lot and we got back to our game,” said Montreal winger Max Pacioretty, who scored the winner with 43 seconds to play, consigning the Lightning to a 4-3 defeat and playoff elimination.
And now the Habs advance to play either the Boston Bruins or Detroit Red Wings, filled with the knowledge that they can shut down one of the game’s premier players – Tampa centre Steven Stamkos – and keep their composure when the going gets hairy.
Perhaps that’s the best news of all for Canada’s lone entry in these playoffs.
“We were able to adjust to their tendencies and their patterns and that’s a big reason why we won the series,” said centre Lars Eller, who scored Montreal’s second goal, More and trickier adjustments will be required in the coming weeks, but for now the Habs can savour the taste of victory.
Momentum swells like an angry ocean over the course of the hockey game, and to complete a dodgy metaphor, it looked for all the world as if the seas were washing over Montreal’s gunwales.
All-world goaltender Carey Price, confronted with Olympic near-nemesis Kristers Gudlevskis after he replaced starting goalie Anders Lindback with just over five minutes gone in the second, gave up a strange goal to Tampa’s Victor Hedman – who banked it off him from behind the net.
Then the Lightning’s Tyler Johnson took a friendly bounce off P.K. Subban’s stick and rifled the tying goal past Price.
Tampa could have been forgiven for thinking their rotten luck – exemplified by a disallowed goal at a crucial moment in game three – had turned.
They were wrong.
After a tussle with Montreal’s Michaël Bournical deep in the Habs’ end, Tampa rookie Cédric Paquette was whistled for tripping with two minutes left.
“Was it a trip? Yeah, probably. The way things were going. . . you don’t expect that to be called, so it’s tough. You learn from those situations. You never know what’s going to be called. It’s a tough way to lose a game,” Stamkos said.
He’s right, and the fans of Montreal, assuredly don’t care.
Now they’ll get to roar again for at least two more home games, and applaud the talismanic Ginette Reno, who sang O Canada for the second straight game.
In game three on Sunday, Rene Bourque scored just 11 seconds after the puck drop.
In game four it only took a little longer for Daniel Brière to score his first playoff marker as a Hab; he did it with 2:23 elapsed.
Of course Brière was sitting closest to Reno, and naturally she reached out a hand as she walked up the tunnel.
“We might have to try and set her up with a little seat next to the bench,” he said after.
Montreal doubled its lead at 15:21 of the frame after some more good work along the left boards – this is a team bound and determined to attack the right side of the Tampa defence – this time from a back-checking Brian Gionta, who forced a turnover when he pinned Paquette on the wall.
Eller scooped up the loose puck and steamed up ice, firing a heavy slapshot through Anders Lindback.
And the Bell Centre roared again.
It simmered down on a Habs’ power-play in the second, when Alexei Emelin made a baffling mistake, mishandling the puck as he tried kicking up to his stick and sending it directly into the slot, where it was scooped up by Ondrej Palat, who stuffed it home seconds later.
One of the stories of this series has been the Habs’ ability to respond quickly to Tampa’s advances, and just over a minute later, they had the puck in the net again.
Tomas Plekanec made a nifty zone entry and slipped a pass to Brendan Gallagher, whose quick shot eluded Linback on the far side.
It was the winger’s fifth goal in nine career playoff games; he may be little, but he’s fierce, and relentless.
Those are qualities the Habs will need as they move on to the second round.