One of the dressing rooms was occupied by a team that had just dropped its second straight playoff game – it was quiet, the mood was sombre.
The other contained a group of players that heads to its notoriously rowdy home rink in the knowledge it is halfway to winning a series.
Other than the bustle of equipment guys hauling away gear for a late-evening flight, it was quiet, and sombre.
This is what Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien means when he uses seemingly platitudinous expressions like “I think we’re really focused about the work we need to do . . . I like our composure, I like the leadership of this group.”
It’s true the Habs haven’t won anything of consequence yet, so there’s no point in celebrating wildly, but after coolly dispatching the Lightning in a game where they were heavily outplayed at points – and having seized home ice advantage – the atmosphere is all business.
“We did what we wanted to do so far, we’re not going to take anything for granted, it’s all about living in the moment,” said goaltender Carey Price, who made 26 saves on 27 shots.
It’s said teams often take on the personality of their coaches, but it’s probably more accurate in the Habs’ case to say they’ve adopted the calm, understated mien of their talented goaltender.
The Lightning aren’t exactly despondent either, but Tampa captain Steven Stamkos made no secret of his frustration at losing a game in which he and his team delivered a strong effort.
“It’s not acceptable,” he said, “but no one’s feeling sorry for us . . . there’s no dwelling on things at this time of year.”
The Lightning held a players-only meeting after the game, which coach Jon Cooper hailed as a positive indication.
“When you’ve got a team that cares, they take it upon themselves,” he said.
After two games, a key difference has emerged between these teams: the veteran Canadiens have been able to absorb all that the speedy, talented Lightning have been able to throw at them, and as Cooper said of the scoring chances on Friday “theirs went in, ours didn’t . . . that’s the tough part, it’s a game of breaks.”
It can pay to employ veterans, particularly in the post-season, and after an opening game where experienced players like fourth-line centre Daniel Brière and third-line winger Brian Gionta came to the fore, it was time for another thirtysomething forward to do his thing.
In the two-and-a-half seasons before the Habs acquired him from the Calgary Flames, Rene Bourque had scored 67 goals.
Since then, Bourque has produced seasons of five, seven and nine goals.
He’s had precisely one two-goal game as a Hab in February of 2013, and at various points this year he was a healthy scratch.
“It hasn’t been a smooth ride since I got here, you could say that,” he said. “It’s been tough, I’ve just been trying to keep my head up. I’ve definitely been up and down, I feel like I can definitely elevate my game in the playoffs . . . it’s kind of more my style, getting gritty and playing hard. Hopefully I can continue to play well.”
Play well he has; Bourque was a force in the first game, and scored the winner this night.
While it’s convenient to point out that the Habs have been getting production from their depth players, having guys in your bottom six who can score (the by-product of acquiring top-line winger Thomas Vanek at the trade deadline and developing youngsters like Brendan Gallagher, who scored the fourth goal Friday) helps.
“These guys aren’t schleps,” said Cooper, pointing out that Bourque has been a reliable goal-scorer in the past, and that Brière has triple-digit point totals in his playoff career.
And veteran composure – poise is a word that comes up often in the Lightning’s orbit – is in more ample supply in the Montreal room, at least through two games.
That has to be part of the explanation for the way the Habs have also, for the most part, been able to stifle Stamkos and the other Lightning scorers by assiduously following their game plan to take away the middle of the ice.
There were long stretches on Friday when the Lightning seemed to have figured out the combination to that particular lock – especially in the first two periods – but the Habs were able to repel them with timely goals.
Defenceman P.K. Subban said the key to countering Tampa’s speed is managing the neutral zone and that “if we don’t do that, they’ll break us down.”
Asked about whether he could sense the mounting frustration in Tampa players like his childhood buddy Stamkos – who at one point stuck a glove in his face during a post-whistle scrum – he said “nobody likes to be suffocated. It's pretty frustrating if you got a bag over your head and you can't breathe."
Though the Lightning roared out of the gate – they swarmed the visiting end and uncorked five shots in the first 90 seconds – the best scoring chance of the early going fell to the Habs.
Bourque – who else? – sprang Brian Gionta on a breakaway with a gorgeous stretch pass up the middle.
The Montreal captain faked a forehand, went backhand, and was stopped by Tampa’s Anders Lindback, his first of many terrific saves on the evening.
Tampa survived a high-sticking double-minor to Stamkos when Montreal contrived to draw a too-many-men penalty midway through.
Just over two minutes into the second, the Lightning’s Richard Panik was whistled for hooking Brière at the side of the net, and the Montreal power play, stuck in an 0-for-27 rut, went to work.
David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty cycled a puck back to the point to Subban, whose powerful slapshot has been the focal point of the Habs’ man-advantage.
It’s pertinent to mention at this point that the Montreal coaches have been trying to add new wrinkles to the power play for several weeks now, but once again it came down to Subban, whose savvy slap-pass went to Desharnais at the side of the net. The little centre tipped it off Lindback’s left arm and into the net.
It was Desharnais’ first career playoff goal, and the first Montreal power-play marker since Mar. 25.
What happened next is even more remarkable.
Just over 10 minutes into the frame, Subban lofted a diagonal pass from deep in his own end – the beady-eyed will recall he was recently castigated for making that play when it resulted in an opposition goal – but the puck bounced to Vanek, who made an incredible no-look pass to a streaking Bourque.
The 32-year-old, who scored all of nine regular season goals, split the defence, blew past a static Sami Salo, escaped Lindback’s poke check, and then delicately dinked a forehand off the foot of the post and in.
Replays showed that Bourque – who has his own Twitter hashtag in honour of his propensity to almost (but not quite) pull off great plays – lost control of the puck briefly as Lindback knocked it off his stick, but had the presence of mind to lift the blade over the sprawling goalie to make the decisive shot.
“To tell you the truth, I was just trying to get a shot off,” Bourque said.
Moments later, Habs fans were treated to a more familiar occurrence.
After Tampa’s Teddy Purcell made a fine individual effort to lose his pursuer in the Montreal corner, he slid a perfect pass to an uncovered Cédric Paquette.
But the native of Gaspé, Que. – playing in his fourth NHL game – doesn’t have a lot of experience facing goalies of Price’s calibre, and the Team Canada netminder duly powered to his left to make the best save of the night.
At the 11:46 mark of the third, Gallagher fired a wrist shot off Matt Carle’s shinpads, gathered the rebound and whipped a stoppable shot past Lindback.
That made it 3-0 Habs, and led to the introduction of Latvian Olympic hero Kristers Gudlevskis.
Purcell got a goal back in the late stages to scotch Price’s 82:42 shutout string, but it will be of little consolation.