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Back on the ice, Lars Eller’s skate lifts Montreal spirits

Montreal Canadiens' Lars Eller is taken off the ice following a hit by Ottawa Senators' Eric Gryba

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

When the seas start washing over the main decks, you reach for something buoyant.

It might just be that the flailing Montreal Canadiens will latch on to a metaphorical life raft in this shred of news: Injured centre Lars Eller skated on his own on Wednesday at the team's practice facility.

There's no timetable for the Dane's return – the impromptu twirl came only six days after a devastating, illegal hit by Ottawa Senators defenceman Eric Gryba – but his mere presence constitutes a boost for a team badly in need of one.

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"It's great news," head coach Michel Therrien said. "He's a kid everybody likes."

Otherwise, the tidings from the Habs' camp are grim.

Captain Brian Gionta has been ruled out for the year after tearing his left biceps tendon. He will have surgery Friday. Tough guy Brandon Prust will not play in Thursday's elimination game with the Sens because of an upper-body injury. Ryan White is out for the same reason.

Starting goaltender Carey Price is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body problem, although the fact he couldn't play the overtime period of Ottawa's 3-2 comeback win in Game 4 augurs poorly.

But if the good ship CH is about to slip below the surface, its crew members aren't interested in meekly accepting their fate.

"We have another opportunity [Thursday] to play, and we can beat these guys. We're better," defenceman P.K. Subban said .

Precedent suggests the Habs won't succeed in climbing out of a 3-1 hole (it happens only 8.7 per cent of the time), but several current members of the team – Subban included – remember when they pulled it off in the 2010 playoffs against Washington. Only the Habs are the favourites in this series rather than an unheralded eighth seed, and the Slovak goaltender who looks likely to start Game 5 is Peter Budaj, not Jaroslav Halak.

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Though the team is being coy about its choice of starting netminder, Budaj says he's ready should he be called upon to make his first playoff start.

"We'll see what the status is tonight and tomorrow with Carey, and we're going to go from there," said the veteran backup, who copped to misplaying Kyle Turris's overtime winner on Tuesday when he came on in relief of Price. "It's a bad goal, I definitely could have stopped it," Budaj said.

Despite the mounting injuries and the fact they have a hammerlock on the series, the Senators profess to be taking nothing for granted.

"We're scared to death, I know that. I know I am," Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean said.

That's a sensible enough stance, even if Gryba seemed a good deal less frightened: "We can smell blood, we can taste blood, and it's time to put them away."

The Habs will surely have something to say about that in front of their home crowd.

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That said, there's no miracle recipe to ignite a comeback. Gionta said it boils down to sticking with what works until you get the desired result, and absent the third-period lapses in three of the four first games, the Habs have been the better of the two clubs.

"You draw on the things you've done in the series that have made you successful . . . you try to win one game, and you go from there," said the 34-year-old Gionta, who expects to be ready for training camp (he suffered an identical injury to his right arm last year, which took four months to heal).

Therrien is fond of citing his team's courage. He pointed to Gionta, who tried to play through the injury in Game 3 and "was crying in my arms" after doctors told him his season was over.

Thursday's game will provide an indication of how much courage his team possesses.

Subban said the pressure is on the Senators, and vowed the Habs will give them everything they can handle and more.

"When we come out of the gates and we're flying, guys are going to realize that we're a better team, and there's still life in this series for us," Subban said. "It takes guys in this room to believe that. They want to end this thing. But they've got to beat us first, so good luck to them."

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More

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