To avoid sweep, Montreal needs another rally

Updated: May 6, 2004, 2:52 PM ET
Associated Press

MONTREAL -- Montreal captain Saku Koivu says the Canadiens will have to avoid being swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning for this season to be a success.

"If you lose 4-0 in the playoffs, I don't consider that a great season," Koivu said Wednesday. "We've gone too far to quit now and feel sorry for ourselves and say we did some good things."

The Canadiens surprised many just by reaching the playoffs, then they shocked even more by rallying from a 3-1 series deficit in the first round to eliminate the Boston Bruins.

Montreal will have to win at home on Thursday night to force a Game 5 on Saturday.

"We have to think of it as one game, like a Game 7, and if we win that, hopefully go back to Tampa and steal one and get momentum," Koivu said. "That's how we have to approach this.

"We know it's not going to be easy. The other team wants to get it done as quickly as possible. It'll be interesting."

Tampa Bay grabbed a 3-0 series lead Tuesday by scoring the tying goal in the closing seconds of regulation, then winning it 1:05 into overtime.

Only two teams in Stanley Cup playoff history have come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series -- the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders.

But the Canadiens staged a comeback nearly as dramatic against Boston after a similarly heartbreaking overtime victory in Game 4 in Montreal.

On Tuesday, Montreal native Vincent Lecavalier scored the tying goal for the Lightning with 17 seconds left in the third period. Brad Richards' second of the game won it.

Now, Montreal hopes to do to Tampa Bay what it did to the Bruins.

"We have to come out with a strong effort and get a win," Koivu said. "They're getting the bounces right now. That's how it goes sometimes. You play a good game and don't get the results."

Montreal needs to eliminate breakdowns the Lightning are so quick to pounce on. In Game 3, Niklas Sundstrom failed to get the puck out of the zone in the final minute and it turned into Lecavalier's goal.

The Canadiens also need goaltender Jose Theodore to play the way he did in the final three wins over Boston. He allowed only three goals and posted a shutout in Game 7.

He has yielded 11 goals in three games against Tampa Bay.

"For sure, it wasn't my best game of the series, but that's part of the game," Theodore said of Game 3. "There's nothing you can do about it except bounce back the next game.

"We outplayed them, so we just have to keep doing the same things. It's the same situation as the last series. We're not in the best seat, but if we play like we did last game, we should win."

Though only a handful of Canadiens skated in an optional practice Wednesday, nearly all of the Lightning were on the ice, including Lecavalier, Richards, NHL scoring champion Martin St. Louis and 40-year-old Dave Andreychuk.

Richards said a strong start would be key to beating the desperate Canadiens, who will be backed by a sellout home crowd.

"You saw what they did against a quality team like Boston," Richards said. "They're in their own building, and they've got nothing to lose now.

"You've got to try and get that first goal, get through that first period, weather the storm, settle in and maybe have their life get taken away from them. But if they score early, with this atmosphere, it's going to be a tough game."

The Canadiens have some confidence since they scored three goals against Tampa Bay goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin on Tuesday after managing only one in the first two games.

The Lightning expect Montreal to continue trying to hit their best players -- Lecavalier and St. Louis in particular -- as the Habs did in Game 3.

"We know they're going to try to hit people to put them off their game," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "We do the same thing."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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