Canadiens Notebook: Tyler Toffoli can give Habs a reason to believe


He was with the Kings in 2014 when they were down 3-0 in first-round playoff series with Sharks before bouncing back to win the Stanley Cup.

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The Canadiens will be facing elimination when they play the Maple Leafs in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series Thursday night in Toronto (7 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio).

The Canadiens, who have scored two goals in the last three games, now have to win three straight — including two in Toronto — to advance to the North Division final against the Winnipeg Jets. The Canadiens were only able to win three consecutive games three times all season, so the odds of that happening now appear to be somewhere between slim and none. The Canadiens also have a 4-8-1 record against the Leafs this year, including the regular season.

But Tyler Toffoli can provide his Canadiens teammates with some hope.

When Toffoli was with Los Angeles in 2014, the Kings were trailing the San Jose Sharks 3-0 in their best-of-seven first-round series before winning the next four games. The Kings went on to win the Stanley Cup.

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“Game 4, the night before, we kind of just said it’s one game at a time,” Toffoli said Wednesday afternoon before the Canadiens headed to Toronto. “Got to try and put some doubt in their heads. We won Game 4 and it was just one of those things. It was a game at a time and slowly things started going our way and we ended up coming back and winning the series. So we just got to stick together and come together as a team and just perform and play to our abilities.”

If the Canadiens win Thursday, they would force Game 6 Saturday night at the Bell Centre with 2,500 fans in attendance.

“It’s definitely in the back of all of our minds,” Toffoli said. “We’ve definitely missed it this year the entire season. To get the opportunity to be able to play in front of even the small amount that’s going to be allowed is huge and will be a lot of fun. So that’s definitely one of the factors and one of the reasons we really want to win tomorrow and just kind of move on.”

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As for facing elimination Thursday night, Toffoli said: “We’re not trying to look at it like the end is coming. We’re looking forward to tomorrow. It’s going to be a test for ourselves and we just have to come out and we have to play hard and just play as a group. No individuals … none of that. So we have to play as a group, play the way that we’re set out and the way that we talk. I think if we do that and we play to our abilities, everybody has a good game, I think we have a good shot.”

Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme announced Wednesday that injured forwards Jake Evans and Artturi Lehkonen wouldn’t travel with the team to Toronto for Game 5.

You gotta believe

One team is going to end a playoff slump in this series and at this point it certainly looks like it will be Toronto.

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While the Canadiens haven’t won a first-round playoff series since 2015, the Leafs haven’t won one since 2004.

What makes Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot believe his team can come back and win this series?

“The guys in the room is what makes me believe in it,” he said Wednesday. “The makeup of the team and the character of the guys is why I believe we can do it.

“Being shut out last night that’s not anywhere close to what we’re capable of,” Chiarot added. “It’s just confidence. It’s a funny thing when you have it … it feels like you’ll have it forever. And when you don’t, it feels like you’re looking for it forever. So we need to find some confidence offensively, make some more plays and be more dangerous offensively.”

Toffoli also believes in the guys in the room.

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“We kind of have a mix of everything,” he said. “We got the veteran guys, some guys have won, some guys haven’t. We have young guys who are hungry. We have guys like myself, Eddie (Joel Edmundson), Andy (Josh Anderson) kind of right in the middle that kind of help push the bus and pull at the same time. So we have to come together, we have to perform to our abilities and if we do that I think we’re in a good spot. So one game at a time and we just got to work.

“I think we have to find a way to just be consistent throughout the entire game,” Toffoli added. “There are definitely points in the games that we’ve played extremely well and then our game fades a little bit and they get some chances and they capitalize and then we’re chasing.”

Room for improvement

The Canadiens have been outscored 12-4 in the series, are 0-for-13 on the power play and have zero points from their defencemen, so there is a lot of room for improvement in Game 5.

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When asked what the main thing is that the Canadiens have to do better Thursday night, Toffoli said: “There’s a lot of things. But we just got to keep getting our looks and keep getting our opportunities. I think if we just keep doing that, keep putting pressure on them, don’t give them too much respect. We got to play our game and be worried about ourselves and take it shift by shift. It sounds cliché, but that’s kind of the way that we have to play and we just have to be confident in our own abilities and go from there.”

As for the Canadiens defencemen having no points in the first four games, Chiarot said: “Toronto’s a great offensive team. I would say that the D joining offensively becomes secondary, especially when you have dangerous players on the ice. On all four lines they have (they) can strike pretty quickly offensively. I don’t think our priority as defencemen right now is jumping up and joining the rush and taking those chances right now. That would be the biggest thing. That comes secondary right now. Right now our priority is defending.”

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Struggling to score

Toffoli led the Canadiens in goals during the regular season with 28, followed by Anderson (17), Nick Suzuki (15) and Brendan Gallagher (14).

Toffoli and Gallagher have yet to score in this series against the Leafs, while Anderson and Suzuki have one goal each. The other goals against the Leafs came from Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Paul Byron.

William Nylander alone has four goals for the Leafs.

“I think I’ve had some really good looks,” said Toffoli, who had eight shots in the first four games. “It’s the playoffs and guys are laying their bodies on the line. Especially last night in general, I had some really good chances and pucks were bouncing off them or off us and going the other way, whereas early in the year it was kind of bouncing and going in. So just got to keep shooting, keep getting the looks that I’ve been getting and hopefully they go in.”

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Chiarot was asked what the biggest disappointment has been in the first four games apart from the Canadiens’ lack of scoring.

“I don’t think that there’s been a whole lot of separation between the two teams,” he said. “Obviously, they have a deadly power play and they’ve had a lot of opportunities on the power play and they’ve capitalized on some of them. So I think that five-on-five there hasn’t been a big separation. I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed in anything five-on-five that we’re doing. If I’m disappointed in anything it’s just that we’re not capitalizing on our chances and putting the puck in the back of the net as much as we need to.”

There also seems to be a lack of cohesion with the Canadiens on offence with them struggling to make passes and enter the offensive zone.

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“It’s a lot to do with the mindset for me,” Ducharme said. “You look at the way we played the first game of the series, I think we were pretty sharp there. I think that’s part of the playoffs, too, to be going through some ups and downs. It’s the way you react to it and adversity is part of it. It’s never easy to win. It’s the way you handle it as a group. We have a good group of guys here and I think we got a good idea of what we need to do tomorrow.”

Power-play problems

The Canadiens are 0-for-13 on the power play in this series, while the Leafs are 3-for-16 (18.8 per cent).

After the Canadiens went 0-for-4 on the power play in Game 4, Jeff Petry said: “I think last game (Game 3 when they went 0-for-3) for sure was on us not executing, not being on the same page. I thought today we entered better, we moved the puck better and I think we just have to have a shooting mindset. They’re a team that pressures hard. We have to work the puck around, make them shrink and get pucks to the net. I don’t think we’ve generated enough shots to be a threat and that’s when things get dangerous when you’re moving the puck around, shooting the puck and getting them tired. Things are going to open up when you’re doing that. I think we have to get in, keep it simple, move the puck around and generate some more shots.”

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When asked Wednesday about the Canadiens possibly not being on the same page on the power play, Ducharme said: “I thought that was more in Game 3 that at one point when things didn’t start well that guys were trying to fix it by themselves. I thought last night we created better looks. We need to finish. Yesterday we got shots from the top, we hit a post on a rush – Gally I think. A few things like that. So we need to take that and make it even better. Not on the same page was more in Game 3.”

Chiarot noted that the referees are calling things a bit differently this year from his previous experiences in the playoffs.

“But that’s just the way it is,” he said. “You have to deal with it and it’s part of the series. It’s not much we can do about the refs.”

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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