Habs believe they can rally

BROSSARD, Quebec -- The locals are restless.

Their Montreal Canadiens are one loss away from having their underdog spring run strike midnight at the hands of the New York Rangers, which perhaps explains some of the lunacy from local radio callers Monday.

One caller to TSN690, the city's English all-sports radio station, first lamented that Canadiens assistant coach Gerard Gallant for some reason wasn't interested in acting on the suggestions emailed to him to improve the power play.

Imagine that.

The same radio caller also believed it would make sense to move veteran defenseman Francis Bouillon to center.

Generally, Habs fans are smart, educated students of the game; after all, they make up what is universally regarded as the heart of hockey, as passionate a marketplace as there is on this planet. But when your team is on the precipice, it invites irrational thought.

We bring you back now to the real world. The challenge is indeed daunting: Montreal has to beat Henrik Lundqvist three straight games.

Back in 2010, the challenge was just as imposing, perhaps: beat the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals three straight games, a club that had finished 33 points ahead of the Canadiens in the standings. They did just that.

"The key is to really focus your group on looking at the short-term picture," veteran coach Jacques Martin, who was behind the Montreal bench that spring, told ESPN.com Monday.

"That's all you're concerned about is Game 5. When you look at the Canadiens in this series, besides Game 1, they could have easily won Game 2 or Game 4," added Martin, now an assistant with the Penguins. "From a confidence standpoint, those guys should be pretty confident, if they play the same way. Probably the area they'd want to focus is to be more opportunistic.

"I know for our team in 2010, the key was whether we could get ahead; we were really good once we got ahead. We defended well and our power play was also key. Once we took a lead, we were very confident."

The Canadiens haven't erased a 3-1 series deficit since that 2010 comeback win.

Some of those elements Martin pointed to would certainly come in handy today. For starters, the Habs have led for only 2 minutes, 50 seconds in the entire Eastern Conference finals against the Rangers. That's the exact opposite of the two previous rounds, when the Canadiens played with a lead for long stretches against both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins.

The Canadiens aren't an offensive juggernaut; they can't spend all of their time chasing down the score to have a chance. Getting on the board first Tuesday night at Bell Centre would be Step 1 on the long road back. Playing with a lead would help instill more confidence in a team looking for signs that it can be done.

"[The] prior series against Tampa Bay and the Bruins, we were the team scoring the first goal and it gave us a lot of momentum and confidence," coach Michel Therrien said Monday after the Canadiens' optional practice. "Obviously, in this series, it doesn't happen. But we did not try to change our game plan. We want to score that first goal, and we know it's important. It gives confidence to teams, so we've got to be ready."

Canadiens captain Brian Gionta was part of that 2010 team that rallied against the Caps. The key to recultivating that comeback recipe?

"It's no secret: You start doing the right things, you start getting rewarded for it, momentum builds, and you keep carrying that," Gionta said Monday. "Even a couple teams this year have been able to do that, the Kings and the Rangers. So, it's not something that can't be done -- and with the group we have in here, we believe we can do it."

Belief. It's a word thrown around a lot in these situations. It's at the heart of many clichéd answers. And yet it's what a coach looks for in the eyes of his players when his team is down this deep.

"A lot of it is just mental, it's believing, it's trusting in your teammates that you're going to do the job," Martin said. "But the key was really just living the moment and think about the opportunity that you had. You can't do anything about the outside. People talk about the pressure and all that, but once the game starts, you're in the moment and just appreciate the opportunity you have."

In that 2010 series against the Caps, Martin made a forward-line adjustment that sparked something in Game 5.

"I remember we were in Washington for Game 5 and I think that was the game where I started Travis Moen with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta," he said. "That was the first time I put them together and it kind of lifted our team. They had a good game."

This year's Canadiens, Martin feels, has better depth up front than that 2010 team.

"When I look at Montreal now, they've got four lines that can produce, really," Martin said. "When I watched their series against Boston, one of the strengths of the Bruins in the past was their fourth line and the ability to find a way to match their fourth line. Probably Montreal had a better fourth line than the Bruins this year, when they had [Brandon] Prust, [Danny] Briere and [Dale] Weise on the fourth line."

Prust will sit out the second and final game of his suspension Tuesday night, so he's not an option. The Habs need more from their offensive weapons, including the much-maligned Thomas Vanek, who has looked lost.

More troubling, though, in Game 4 was that 39-goal scorer Max Pacioretty, who was terrific in Game 3, went without a single shot on goal Sunday night. The Habs need more, for sure, from the first-line left winger.

And did we mention the power play? Oy. The Habs are 1-for-17 with the man advantage in this series, pretty much one of the leading factors as to why they are down 3-1. Certainly the Rangers deserve credit for their work on the penalty-killing unit, but this is a Montreal team that should produce more in this area.

"I think in the Boston series, our power play got us through a lot of games, and was huge for us," Canadiens winger Rene Bourque said. "We obviously need that to carry over into this series. It has been tough so far but [Game 4] was a game where we needed it to come through. We had numerous opportunities to put that game away and the big goals early in the game didn't happen."

Play with the lead. Score on the power play. Beat Lundqvist. The checklist is ready. Now the Habs have to prove it's a list born out of reality, not fiction.