BOSTON - This was the Canadiens’ most dangerous, most feared line heading into the playoffs, the premier unit of centreman David Desharnais flanked on the left by Max Pacioretty and on the right by newcomer Thomas Vanek.
But then the post-season arrived and someone tripped over the extension, yanking their cord from the wall socket.
Through the four-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference quarter-final round and after Game 1 of the semifinal vs. Boston, the line totals seven points: a goal and two assists for Vanek, and a goal and an assist for both Desharnais and Pacioretty.
Combined for the three, that’s one less than the four goals Rene Bourque has scored, and is the same number of points as the individual effort of P.K. Subban and just one more than Lars Eller.
Against the Bruins in the semifinal, which began with a 4-3 double-overtime win on Thursday, you expect the Pacioretty-Desharnais-Vanek line must deliver the goods.
Michel Therrien certainly expects that, which is why the head coach acted decisively and perhaps even surprisingly early in the second period of Game 1 at the TD Garden.
Therrien had seen enough — which in fact was virtually nothing — from the trio just one shift into the middle frame, so he broke the unit apart.
Vanek was held back from a couple of shifts, then for the balance of the second and into the third he skated with Daniel Brère and Travis Moen or with Tomas Plekanec and Brandon Prust.
Therrien’s message was delivered not just to Vanek, but to Desharnais and Pacioretty as well.
And by extension, to the entire team.
The three were reunited midway through the third period and played together the rest of the way, showing flickers of the magic they created before the playoffs.
Vanek did take a few short shifts, however, saying that when you’re left on the bench even for a few rotations, “sometimes you want to go out there, have a quick shift and get back in the game.”
Therrien was hardly throwing Vanek under a Boston bus Friday afternoon when he met the media at the Canadiens’ hotel, having given his club the day off practice following the four-plus gruelling periods of Game 1.
“There’s a few players on our team who I believe need to step up their game and (Vanek) is one of them,” he said. “I’m not here to mention names but as a group, we need to be better and we will be. I’m not worried. The good news is, we found a way to win. I’m glad we have Vanek in our lineup. He can be a dangerous guy (against) other teams.
“I don’t need to speak to him. He understands. As a coach, you have to make decisions to find the solutions to get the maximum from your team. That’s part of coaching. … You cannot be afraid to make some changes. This is how we do our things and we might see those things again (Saturday during Game 2).”
Vanek wasn’t ducking the issue Friday, meeting reporters with Gallagher, Desharnais and birthday boy Mike Weaver, who turned 36.
The 30-year-old trade-deadline acquisition could have begged off when team officials knocked on his door, but he chose to come down to a meeting room and stress that he’s neither injured nor is he dealing with any issues other than simply being not good enough this post-season.
Vanek freely admitted he’s been lacking through five playoff games, and frankly added that goaltender Carey Price, who made 48 saves, stole a win the Canadiens plainly didn’t deserve.
“When things aren’t going well, the coach has to make changes to try to get something started. Not the first time and it probably won’t be the last time,” Vanek said of the line shuffle.
“You take it as we (as a line) weren’t good enough, I wasn’t good enough. We’re happy with the win, but we know we have to be better as a team, and myself, as well.
“It’s a matter of not being good, it’s as simple as that. Sometimes you overthink the game and when you do, you don’t play as well. We need to realize that all three of us are good hockey players and we need to start making plays again.
“As a line, we didn’t produce much, really, I’m not going to argue that. We were second on pucks, we weren’t creating much, and (Therrien) was trying to get something kick-started, I’m sure.
“We need to sit down to talk as a team, as a line, about what we want to accomplish out there,” Vanek said. “A big part of why we’ve had success is because we played with the puck, not chasing the puck. Even faceoffs, Patch and I need to help out Davey a little bit and start with the puck instead of chasing it.
“We’re up a game, which we shouldn’t be. That’s good. Now we need to step up and help Carey.”
Two power-play goals by Subban, his second the game-winner, was a highlight for Vanek; Montreal went 2-for-3 with the man advantage and now shows a 26.7 per cent post-season success rate (4-for-15).
And so was he encouraged by the discipline of the Canadiens, Josh Gorges and Subban minors successfully killed despite the Bruins’ attempts to stir things up more than once.
“We know how good their power play is,” Vanek said of the Bruins, who were the NHL’s third-best with the man advantage this season and are 6-for-18 (33.3 per cent) in the playoffs.
“For us to be successful, it’s better for us to be at 5-on-5. To stay out of the box and not have to kill penalties is important to us.”
The Canadiens, he said, showed signs of rust buildup after an eight-night break between their first and second rounds.
“This time of year, and with the stretch we had after the Olympics of so many games in not so many days, you get used to playing, having a light practice, playing … you can benefit from practice but you lose quickness in your game,” Vanek said.
“That showed yesterday. (Boston) was first on the puck and better overall. You approach the playoff games the same way but the mindset changes. If you lose two, three or four in a row in the regular season, there’s still time to put a string of four, five, six, seven wins together and get yourself back in. But you can’t have a losing streak of three or four in a row now because you’re going home.
“This morning, I don’t think anyone felt great about that (Game 1) win. We were happy we got the win but we were very fortunate. We knew Carey stole the game for us.
“We know as guys and as a team that we dodged a bullet and we got away with one. All of us, certainly our line, we’ve been around long enough that we know we have to be better.”
A good time to start would be during Saturday’s matinée. The Canadiens will either charter home at dinnertime up 2-0, or will be confirmed to return to Boston for a Game 5 next Saturday.
In the previous 33 playoff series between these two teams, the winner of Game 1 has advanced 27 times.
Which means as much or as little as you like.
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