MONTREAL — The untrained ear didn’t need an emergency call up from the Rosetta Stone farm club to pick up the basics of Michel Therrien’s French musings. The mind-set of the Canadiens coach came through loud and clear following his team’s 4-0 smackdown of the Bruins in Game 6 Monday night.
“Moi, j’ai . . . une philosophie comme un gambler.’’
Me, I have . . . a philosophy like a gambler.
And now the gamblin’ Habs are headed back to Boston, Game 7 Wednesday night, to determine who will advance to the Eastern Conference final. Outcome unknown, but template in place: Therrien isn’t afraid to court risk, while Bruins coach Claude Julien prefers a more steadfast, keep-it-the-same approach, one that delivered in spades throughout the season but has worked in curious bangs and busts through six games vs. Montreal.
Therrien, his club at the brink of elimination, massaged his lineup ever so slightly, hoping that a change in roster mechanics and an upbeat forecheck might bring a different result after back-to-back losses. The nips and tucks weren’t profound — a return of Danny Briere up front, newbie Nathan Beaulieu added on defense — but the end result was stunning, with Thomas Vanek (two goals) and Max Pacioretty (one goal, one assist) finally producing up to their billing as marquee marksmen.
Julien, riding the comfort factor of two straight wins, opted to change nothing. He even kept Squirtin’ Shawn Thornton in uniform as the No. 4 line’s right wing, despite Thornton disrupting, shall we say, the flow of things in Game 5 with his bush-league use of a water bottle to squirt P.K. Subban in the face. The league fined Thornton some $2,800 for his antics and then he saw a mere 4:58 in ice time (roughly half that of Beaulieu, by the way) in Game 6.
Which is not to say the Bruins lost because of A. what Thornton did in Game 5 or B. the fact that he was of virtually no use in Game 6. He sure could have helped in Game 6, but that was true of the entire Black-and-Gold roster. The Bruins now will share billing in an elimination game because they once more made defensive blunders that the quick-strike Habs spun into gold, and because they time and time and time again couldn’t finish prime scoring chances.
“You’ve got to bury those chances — tonight they came back to haunt us,’’ said Julien, noting an array of missed opportunities that included a Loui Eriksson crossbar shot and a couple of painful failed gimme putts by Milan Lucic. “You’ve got to find a way to finish. Simple as that.
“Whether it’s a little bit of puck luck, or us not burying our chances . . . end of the day, you’ve got to find a way.’’
Julien really doesn’t have another way to go about things on offense but to play and pray in Game 7. His No. 1 line of Lucic-David Krejci-Jarome Iginla remained the Stone Cold Bros. in Game 6.
Lucic, though, was beyond cold. The strapping winger was chillingly ineffective. Krejci, finally far more engaged than in Games 1-5, dished him a sweet cross-slot pass only 63 seconds into the action and Lucic fanned on the prime chance to make it 1-0. A dagger, considering the team to score first in each game in this series has finished the winner.
Just over a minute later, Kevan Miller botched a pass from Torey Krug, leaving a forechecking Lars Eller with an easy cash-in for the 1-0 lead at 2:11. The puck squibbed out front for an unimpeded Eller to knock it by Tuukka Rask. For the third time in the series, the Habs would go on to score a total of four times.
“I didn’t like the way they got their goals tonight,’’ said Julien.
“Too many gifts,’’ added Rask. “We gave them too many gifts.’’
Another glorious gift came the Habs’ way early in the second when Beaulieu (see above: gambling, risk, etc.) was the one who dished a breakout feed to a galloping Pacioretty. With Boston captain Zdeno Chara left in a race to cover for Dougie Hamilton, Pacioretty swooped in for the 2-0 knock by Rask.
All the worse, it came after the Bruins showed their greatest push of the night, pressuring Carey Price, looking for sure like they would tie it, 1-1, and springboard from there to a series-clinching win. Instead, they were all but tout fini.
“The second one,’’ said a chagrined Julien, “probably hurt us the most. We’d spent a lot of time in their end. That kind of turned the tide around.’’
Now what? Julien’s squad thus far has been carried not by the all-but-bankrupt No. 1 line, nor by the No. 2 line, which many nights has been defined by Patrice Bergeron doing the work of three (a center, he has a whopping 46 shot attempts in six games). It has really been the third line, centered by Carl Soderberg, that has helped chisel the three wins, along with Rask’s usually reliable work in net.
In Games 4 and 5, the Bruins looked as if they were wearing down their smaller, quicker opponents. For their part, the Habs had been carried by the talented defenseman Subban, Price and, frankly, the mother lode of failed scoring attempts by the Bruins. Through Monday night, the Bruins must have dinged at least a dozen posts and crossbars — often a sign of a club not confident in its shooting or frustrated by a top goalie, both of which apply in this case.
The Habs in Game 6 looked looser, especially when good fortune came their way. For whatever it means — and perhaps it means nothing — they will enter Game 7 with traction gained from Therrien’s lineup bets and an improved forecheck.
“When you play roulette,’’ said Therrien, “some people are going to say if the ball falls 10 times on black, then it’s due to fall on red. But that’s not the reality. Every event is a new moment. The game [Wednesday] is a new moment.
“It’s a seventh game, absolutely anything can happen. That’s the beauty of a Game 7.’’
It is also ultimately the beast of a Game 7 for one side. For Julien’s Bruins, this will be their ninth Game 7 since 2008. They have gone 4-4 in these win-or-go-home affairs, including their three dalliances with elimination in their triumphant Stanley Cup run in 2011.
Amid the disappointment here for the Bruins, they did see their Stone Cold Bros. show signs of recovery, despite Lucic’s failed aim. At least they attempted 21 shots and landed 11 (approaching half of the 26 that made it to Price). So, in hockey terms, they were “around it,’’ even if they failed to “find it.’’
There is a chance, ever so slight, that Julien could change his back end by inserting Dennis Seidenberg among his blue line corps. Recovering from midseason knee surgery, Seidenberg withstood some contact practice for the first time Monday.
Again, not likely, but the sight of Seidenberg in uniform would lift the entire squad and let the Habs know they’re in for a tougher night — one that a sellout crowd of 17,565 also will make hard on the Habs.
“I can’t wait for the crowd,’’ said Subban, as reported by NHL.com’s Arpon Basu. “The noise. The energy in the building. I can’t wait to take that all away from them.’’
Strong words. Some might even say a gamble.