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Mike Cammalleri #13 of the Montreal Canadiens takes a shot in the second period against the Boston Bruins in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 23, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) (Elsa/Getty Images)
Mike Cammalleri #13 of the Montreal Canadiens takes a shot in the second period against the Boston Bruins in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 23, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) (Elsa/Getty Images)

Sean Gordon

Habs' turn to deal with stress Add to ...

A recent study by British researchers concluded that Jan. 5 is the most stressful date on the calendar, what with the crummy weather and holiday bills coming due.

Then an American polling company subsequently established Dec. 1 as all-frazzle day.

They are, of course, both wrong.

Ask any Montreal Canadiens or Boston Bruins fan (or player) and they'll tell you April 23 was the most anxious and tense they've been this year.

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And given what happened - Boston won 2-1 in a double-overtime thriller that Bruins president Cam Neely later described as "a classic" - April 26, the night the teams face off for Game 6 of their first round series, is shaping up to be another occasion to reach for the antacid tablets or let out a tension-busting primal scream.

On the rink, as in life, success is often a function of how well one copes with stress.

Some players are born to it, others have to work at it.

"The biggest thing about handling the stress is that you have to accept that this is going to be stressful. The guys who think 'Ah, it's no big deal' realize pretty quickly that it can be, and then you're not prepared to deal with it," said Montreal defenceman Hal Gill, who had his name etched on the Stanley Cup in 2009 and has the worry lines that go along with it. "You don't go on a roller-coaster ride because it's easy, you do it because you want to test yourself, to see if you'll throw up."

The Bruins coped with the nausea-inducing prospect of being down 2-0 in the series by shuttling off to Lake Placid for two days - they promptly ripped off three successive wins, although the last two were by the barest of margins.

On Saturday that margin was literally the width of Boston goalie Tim Thomas's left pad, which he used to rob a sure goal off the stick of Montreal's Brian Gionta just before Nathan Horton scored at the other end.

Last season, the Habs showed they can handle life's stressful occasions by going 5-1 in elimination games against their more-fancied opponents.

On Tuesday they'll have a chance to measure themselves again (if there is to be a Game 7, it will go Wednesday in Boston).

For veterans, it's just another elimination game, but this weekend also showed that Montreal's two rookie centres, David Desharnais and Lars Eller, can handle the peaks and valleys (to say nothing of Boston's Brad Marchand, the pesky first-year winger who scored the Bruins' opening goal on Saturday and has been their best player in the series by a long chalk). Even Marchand, tested in the cauldron of the world junior championship, said of overtime periods in the playoffs: "They're very nerve-wracking, and it was getting pretty tough there in the second one."

Now that Boston has become the first team to win a home game in the Bruins-Habs series, it's up to Montreal to try and defend its rink once again.

In the years since they moved to the Bell Centre in 1996, the Canadiens have had the worst home playoff record of any regular playoff team (Atlanta has never won a home playoff game, but has only played four in franchise history).

The first goal will also be imperative, as the team that darkens the scoresheet first has won all but one of the first five games of the series.

The extra day off will help rest tired bodies - the Habs' P.K. Subban played more than 40 minutes on Saturday, but at least he's 14 years younger than Gill, who played just north of 38 minutes.

It may also help Desharnais, who left the game with what RDS reported is a left knee injury, and defenceman James Wisniewski, who was in the dressing room for much of the third period and the first overtime, to nurse whatever ails them.

It's also a chance for the team as a whole to regain its mental edge.

Though they have lost three straight, the Habs have only played one bad period in that stretch, and could easily have closed out the Bruins had the overtime bounces gone their way in Games 4 and 5.

The teams have each scored 12 goals through the first five games. Boston has outshot Montreal 177 to 165.

"It's a really thin line between a loss and a win here, so it's tough dealing with it right now, but we're determined we're going to win the next two. And I think we have it in this team," Eller, who was arguably the Habs' best forward on Saturday, said after the loss. "Right now, tonight, it's a tough feeling, it's not good. But [Sunday]and Monday and when we play the next game, revenge is going to be our motivation. I'm pretty sure we're going to play our best game in Game 6 in Montreal."

The Habs flew out immediately after Saturday night's game and held a team meeting on Sunday at the team's practice facility in suburban Montreal.

Coach Jacques Martin described his squad's mood as "disappointed but confident."

"We have lots left in the tank, if you look at the way we've played we're getting better from game to game, we're disappointed by the result certainly … but we've been through these kinds of situations before and we'll be ready Tuesday," he said.

Martin is also an old hand at dealing with highly stressful situations, having coached nearly 1,400 NHL games.

"It's the fun part of the job," Martin said. "I've had 25 years of it, so that helps. Not too many grey hairs yet, so that's a good sign."

Those stress researchers may want to count the grey hairs after Tuesday.

With a report from The Canadian Press

Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

 

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