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Pressure is on Habs' Alex Galchenyuk to raise his game

Alex Galchenyuk posted 20 goals and 26 assists during the regular season. Jana Chytilova/Getty Images

MONTREAL -- The large scrum of 30 or so media, which included 10 cameras, had dissipated, leaving Alex Galchenyuk alone in his stall in the Montreal Canadiens' practice facility.

He threw a piece of equipment on the floor and shook his head. We’ll leave out what he muttered because we consider it outside the boundaries of the formal interview session.

But take our word that the talented, young forward is about as frustrated right now as he has been in his burgeoning career.

He was challenged before this second-round series by his general manager, Marc Bergevin, who told media it was time for the 21-year-old forward to elevate his game.

Instead, Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning saw Galchenyuk take three penalties -- he’s lucky it wasn’t four, as he got away with an elbow on Valtterri Filppula late in the third period -- and be relegated to fourth-line duty a few times in the game.

As a team that doesn’t score a lot of goals, the Canadiens need this immensely talented player to figure things out -- in a hurry.

"When things don’t go well, you can’t get rattled too fast," Galchenyuk told reporters Saturday after an optional skate. "You’ve got to stay patient and positive and keep doing what you’re doing. Keep working hard and eventually things will happen."

Montreal coach Michel Therrien conceded after Game 1 that Galchenyk had "a tough night." On Saturday, the head coach had a more conciliatory tone.

"One thing with a player like Galchenyuk, he’s a really young player," Therrien said. "That’s a process to work with young players. The fact that he’s capable to play and he’s playing playoff hockey, in overtime, this is something you learn from. Those are big games. Looking at Tampa Bay, [Jonathan] Drouin is a young player, but they don’t play him. One year difference. And Drouin is a hell of a player. He’s going to be a good player. But we work with our young kids. All those experiences a young player is facing, you know down the road they’re going to get better."

It’s indeed a good example Therrien brings up. Drouin is going to be a big star in this league, but he has dressed for just one playoff game so far. That’s mostly because Tampa is deeper up front offensively than Montreal and can afford to take it slow in Drouin’s development.

That’s not really an option for the Habs, who are desperate for offense.

Mind you, since Therrien himself brought up the Drouin comparison, we asked the Habs head coach if he would consider sitting Galchenyuk for just one game in order to take a breather and gain a fresh perspective. It has worked for other players.

The answer was no.

"We’re going to continue working with Alex. That’s how we see it," Therrien said. "He’s a young guy with potential. He wants to do well for his team, so it’s not one of my priorities to take him out of the lineup. We’ll continue to work with him."

Galchenyuk, the third overall pick in the 2012 draft, has one goal and one assist in seven playoffs games. The thing about it, though, is it’s been a modest season all-around. His 46 points (20 goals and 26 assists) were a career high, yet more was expected from him this season. There was a sense his third NHL season would be his breakthrough year.

It wasn’t. But it might yet come.

"Young kid, so they go through up and downs," a rival team executive said via text Saturday. "Powerful winger with speed and skills to be an impact player. A lot of people around the league thought he would be a star this year, but not sure what happened. Contract year, so probably putting more pressure on himself. Also, Montreal can eat up a young kid with attention. He hasn't shown the same presence and drive as last year."

Right now, he looks a bit fried, and standing there Saturday -- give him credit for hanging in with all the questions about his struggles -- he looked like a lost puppy.

"Eighty percent of the game today is in the head," veteran Habs center Tomas Plekanec said Saturday. "It’s more about confidence. He’s thinking too much. You can see today in practice, we had 2-on-1’s and 3-on-1’s, and he’s thinking too much. It’s just takes one play, and things will click for him, and he’ll be helping our team win."

Plekanec said the vets on the team are trying to help him.

"We talk. We had a little chat. I’m sure he’ll talk to other guys too," Plekanec said. "We’re in the same boat. We need him to be at his best to help us win this series."

His advice to the kid?

"Don’t watch TV, don’t read the news, don’t listen to anybody, stay positive as much as you can," Plekanec said with a smile. "And he is as much as he can. We’re different persons. I was harder on myself. He’s hard on himself too, but he doesn’t show it as much."

As Plekanec said, maybe it’s just one play, one bounce, and everything changes suddenly for Galchenyuk. Sometimes the game can be that simple.

"The bounces don’t go your way sometimes," Galchenyuk said. "It’s a team sport. We’re all battling. We’re all trying to bring our game to the next level, and that’s what I’m trying to do. You know it’s going to come to you if you keep working, and that’s the way it is right now."

His biggest hurdle now is to not bring the game home with him.

"You think about the game when you get home for a bit, but then you’ve got hit the switch," Galchenyuk said. "When you come in the next day, you can’t think or sit there and think about what you can do better or worse. Over-thinking is not a good thing sometimes. Definitely there’s a place in the back of your head after a loss what you could have done better and maybe make this game a win. You’ve got [to] move on and think [about] what you can do best in the next game."