No one was hiding it during the home stretch of the season for the Canadiens: the team was at their wit’s end physically and mentally due to the condensed schedule.
After a week off, the team began their playoff journey against Toronto invigorated and, while their schedule is just as intense, the Habs have regained their cohesion from the start of the season.
The Canadiens have won their last five games to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs and take the lead 2-0 in their North Division final series against the Winnipeg Jets. The Montreal squad will host the Jets at the Bell Center, Sunday and Monday.
At the end of this series of two games in as many nights, the Habs will have played 11 games in 19 days.
The playoff mentality is different, said interim head coach Dominique Ducharme during a video conference on Saturday. In season, the stakes are not the same. Mentally, that’s another story.
I like how the team grew in those times and learned to handle the situation a lot better. Several factors mean that we are currently better in this area. We are managing the situation better as a team.
The week we had before the series against the Leafs was good on the ice for us, but also mentally and physically. We haven’t trained since then.
Ducharme added that there had to be a balance, in season, between games, rest and training time. Since the start of the series, there are only games and rest.
While it is true that the main defensive quartet is used a lot, Ducharme has found a balance within his four attacking lines.
In the first game of the series against the Jets, won 5-3 by the Habs, Jake Evans was the most used striker at 5:55 pm and Josh Anderson was the one who spent the least time on the ice at 10 : 57. In the 1-0 victory on Friday, Phillip Danault was the busiest at 7:13 pm, and Cole Caufield the least employed at 12:02 pm.
In the Jets camp, four forwards were used for more than 20 minutes in the first meeting and five in the second game.
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The Canadiens have often praised the depth of the team. These figures show the usefulness of this depth.
As the Montreal team are preparing to play two games in as many nights, could Ducharme be tempted to make changes to his training? The coach said he plans to continue to trust the same group on Sunday. For the rest, it is to be continued.
We’ll see after the first game if it’s time to use our depth to bring energy, to adjust things, said Ducharme. It’s hard to make a plan for the second game when we haven’t played the first one yet. For us, he is the most important.
Carey Price should therefore play both games again, as was the case in the same situation in the first round.
In any two-game-in-two-night situation, often times it’s after the first game that you get the hang of it. feeling to know what kind of game it was for the goalkeeper.
Anything can happen, but normally Carey is going to be in goal in both games.
The Canadiens’ players were on leave on Saturday. They will have the opportunity to push the Jets over the brink on Sunday.
Photo : Getty Images / Jonathan Kozub
This is only the eighth time in its history that the Canadian has taken the lead 2-0 in a series, winning the first two away games. He’s won the series just four times on seven previous occasions, including losses to the Carolina Hurricanes in six games in 2006 and the Boston Bruins in seven games in 2011.
We don’t take anything for granted, Ducharme insisted. It might be cliché to say, but we’re glad we did and want to be even better. Every day is a new challenge.
A first experience as a head coach in the NHL playoffs
Asked what, according to him, were the main differences between the NHL series and those of the other levels where he has coached, Ducharme mainly mentioned the quality of the players.
Players are faster, more talented, he said.
However, the Habs driver insisted that the playoff experience is similar in most cases.
Dealing with adversity, growing as a team, the ups and downs of the playoffs, it’s all pretty similar.
He also acknowledged that the media attention is far superior to what he has experienced at the Major Junior level.