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The Habs are certainly taking advantage of the opportunity they were given in NHL postseason, led by their $84-Million Man in goal.
Author of the article:
Stu Cowan • Montreal Gazette
Aug 16, 2020 • • 4 minute read
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TORONTO — Les Canadiens sont là!???
Who the heck are these guys?
They certainly don’t look anything like the team that finished 24th in the overall NHL standings with a 31-31-9 record and really had no business being in the postseason. But the Canadiens certainly played like they belong on Friday, skating the Philadelphia Flyers into the ice for a 5-0 victory in Game 2 to even up their first-round, best-of-seven playoff series. Game 3 is Sunday night at the Scotiabank Arena (8 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio).
In hockey — and in life — it’s often about taking advantage of the opportunities you’re given, and that’s exactly what the Canadiens have done.
“I think our team had a lot of highs and lows during the season,” forward Paul Byron said during a video conference Saturday morning. “And when our team was on the ball, when we played our game, when we were focused, we saw how good our team could be. Our goal in the training camp was try to get to that level. Forget about the lows. It was a new start for everybody. Everybody was healthy, everyone was feeling good. Playing up to our potential, playing up to our strengths, what we’re capable of.
“The young guys have really stepped up their game,” Byron added. “They’re playing incredible hockey for us. Everyone else right now is just trying to play as hard as we can. This thing could be over any day. It’s a lot of motivation for us knowing that every game you just give it your all and we’ll see what happens. You don’t have to worry about the long grind of the season and where the standings are. It’s just one game at a time. Put your focus on that game, and the guys are doing really well with that right now.”
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Marc Bergevin has preached during his eight years as Canadiens GM that getting into the playoffs is the key and then “anything can happen” — especially with a goalie like Carey Price. Anything is happening now and Price looks like the $84-Million Man with a 4-2 record, a 1.46 goals-against average, a .954 save percentage and two shutouts.
“He’s our best player every single night,” defenceman Ben Chiarot said about Price after the goalie made 30 saves in Game 2. “During the season, playoffs, I mean he’s a rock for us every game. He’s just continuing now. It’s not anything new for us when we see him every day. He’s like that every day, every game, every practice he’s like that. So we’re kind of spoiled that we get to see it every single day.”
The Canadiens will go as far as Price can carry them — again — but he’s not carrying this team all alone right now. Nine players have scored goals for the Canadiens, including a team-leading four by 20-year-old centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi. None of the goal-scorers are named Brendan Gallagher, who you have to think is due to break out of his slump like linemate Tomas Tatar did with his first two goals in Game 2 against the Flyers. Heck, the Canadiens even scored two power-play goals in Game 2 — one by Tatar — after going 0-for-12 in their qualifying-round victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
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“I think we came into Toronto here no expectations, no pressure,” coach Kirk Muller said Saturday. “We got some young guys that are led by these leaders. They came in and made a decision that they want to play hockey and they’ve been committed. They’ve worked hard, they’ve followed the system and everything. Momentum’s a funny thing. Once you get it you can ride with it, and we just happened to get off to the right tracks and trying to get better every day. We’re up against a really tough opponent right now and we respect them a lot. Yesterday was great, but we got to be ready to roll again tomorrow.”
The Canadiens got an emotional boost Friday morning when they learned head coach Claude Julien had successful surgery for the stenting of a coronary artery in a Toronto hospital and was heading back home to Montreal to rest and recover. Muller, who took over the head-coaching duties, said before Game 2 that he wanted to inject passion and emotion from behind the bench and he certainly did.
But what else did Muller like about the way his players performed?
“Well, I like our goalie,” he said. “He’s in a zone, he’s sharp. I liked the way our guys were focused. I like the way we’re able to skate, use our speed, play a north game. I like the fact that everyone was involved and we were able to use the whole bench. We had a full, committed group, everyone followed the plan and when you do that, that’s how our team’s built. It’s built on numbers and everyone made a commitment and I was really happy with the effort from the guys.”
The question now is how much longer can the Canadiens play like this?
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