The Hamilton Bulldogs players who were called up late Sunday afternoon also skated at the Bell Sports Complex on Tuesday, utilizing the facility’s primary ice rink following the Canadiens’ morning skate. The Bulldogs’ regular season came to a close on Apr. 19 as the squad failed to qualify for the AHL playoffs.
|RAW: Sylvain Lefebvre|
“We definitely want to develop our players in a winning environment. But, we play in very tough division. Only two teams made the playoffs, including Rochester. They got in by the back door,” underlined Bulldogs head coach, Sylvain Lefebvre, who saw his team finish the 2013-14 campaign with a 33-35-8 record. “It’s very competitive. We missed the playoffs by four or five wins. We gave up 16 empty-net goals, so we believe we were competitive for the majority of our games.”
Even though the Bulldogs’ season came to premature end, Lefebvre is still satisfied with the progress players made under his watch.
“If we put the results of the team aside, there are plenty of positives when it comes to the development of our younger guys,” mentioned Lefebvre, who didn’t hesitate to single out several notables while holding his end-of-season press conference with the Montreal media on Tuesday. “You just have to look at a guy like Sven Andrighetto, who despite missing a few games with an injury to start the season, still put up good numbers offensively. He scored some big goals. His confidence grew as the season went on.”
Game 4 Preview: MTL vs. TBL
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Business as usual
The Canadiens held a noon skate at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Monday. Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin took advantage of therapy days and were not on the ice. All other players were present, except Alex Galchenyuk (lower body).
After being called up on Sunday night, 10 players from Hamilton will arrive in Montreal on Monday evening and will skate in Brossard on Tuesday morning on the second ice at the Bell Sports Complex.
- The Canadiens skated at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Sunday morning ahead of Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the Lightning. Based on the lines featured at practice, the Habs should field the same lineup that secured a 4-1 victory in Game 2 on Friday night.
- Coaches and players spent about 15 minutes prior to the start of practice working on special teams play.
- Travis Moen skated alongside his teammates again on Sunday morning. He was featured on a line with Ryan White and George Parros. Following practice, Moen worked with strength and conditioning coach, Pierre Allard, on absorbing physical contact along the boards. During his post-practice press conference, head coach Michel Therrien indicated that the Stewart Valley, SK native is inching closer and closer to returning to active duty after sustaining a concussion.
- After spending the better part of last week in Florida, the Canadiens make their much-anticipated return to the Bell Centre on Sunday night. It will undoubtedly be the perfect opportunity for fans to cheer on their favorite players, and, more importantly, play an active role in trying to pace the bleu-blanc-rouge to a Game 3 win.
“It’s always been an incredible place to play. The fans are behind us. You have to be careful not to try to do too much, though. We have to play a simple and structured game, just like we did on the road,” explained David Desharnais, who admits that despite playing 129 games at the Bell Centre over the course of his career, he still feels some jitters when taking to the ice at home. “It’s the perfect time. The butterflies are there, you feel some nerves when you step out there, but that means you really appreciate the moment for what it is.”
For those players who’ve only tasted the Bell Centre atmosphere during the regular season, however, Sunday night’s tilt marks the start of a new chapter in their hockey careers, one that includes seeing first-hand what playoff fever in Montreal is all about.
|RAW: Josh Gorges|
- After besting the Lightning in the first two games of the series in the Sunshine State, the Canadiens find themselves in familiar postseason territory entering Game 3, but they’re looking for a far different outcome this time around. Back in 2011, the Habs went into Boston and built a 2-0 series lead in round one, only to drop four of the next five games en route to being eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions in a decisive tilt in Massachusetts.
While defenseman Josh Gorges didn’t take part in the series after undergoing season-ending knee surgery to repair a torn ACL in early 2011, the Canadiens’ assistant captain insists the outcome of that series is far behind them as they get set for Game 3.
“It’s a new year. It’s a new challenge. You learn from past experiences, and we’ll take what we can from those experiences. But, this is a whole new ballgame, a whole new challenge. I think the important thing for us is to focus on tonight only,” offered Gorges, who boasts 42 games of playoff experience in a Canadiens uniform. “What’s happened the previous two games doesn’t matter. We know this is an important game for both teams and we’ve got to make sure that we’re focused and we’re energized, but we need to play smart hockey.”
- Despite scoring four goals in the series-opener last Wednesday night in Tampa, the Lightning had their fair share of difficulty solving Carey Price in Game 2. The Bolts, however, could be welcoming rookie sensation and top scorer, Ondrej Palat, back to the lineup for Game 3, which would add some extra offensive punch at a time when they need it most.
Palat’s possible return, however, has no bearing on Michel Therrien’s game plan for Sunday night.
“No, there’s no change. When we started the playoffs, he was in the lineup. He’s an important player for them. It will be up to us to limit his time and space and play physical hockey against him,” offered Therrien, who watched as Palat went down with an upper-body injury in Game 1. “They’re an extremely fast team. We have to continue focusing on our structure and taking away their speed. It’s very important to limit their reaction time and their space out there on the ice. It’s a priority for us.”
Projected lineup vs. Tampa Bay
The Canadiens held an optional morning skate ahead of Friday’s game against Tampa. Mike Weaver, Thomas Vanek, Alexei Emelin, Jarred Tinordi, P.K. Subban, Dale Weise, Travis Moen, Francis Bouillon, Josh Gorges, Ryan White, Michael Bournival, Douglas Murray, Carey Price and Peter Budaj were all on the ice for practice.
Michel Therrien confirmed there will be no changes made to his lineup from Game 1 heading into Game 2. Seeing his first game action on Wednesday night since suffering an upper body injury with 12 games left in the regular season, Brandon Prust played over 20 minutes against the Lightning in Game 1 alongside Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher. Shaking the rust off to throw three hits and block one shot, Prust will once again be called on to play a shutdown role against Tampa’s elite snipers.
“I expect that [Prust] will be better every game,” mentioned Therrien of the 30-year-old winger. “He hadn’t played for almost a month and he had to come back quickly. Game after game we imagine he’ll get better and better in terms of his timing and little adjustments he has to make. But he’s a guy who will give everything he has; he’ll block shots, he’s hard to play against, he’s a leader on the team and what’s most important to me, he’s a gamer. We want all our players to be gamers and he definitely shows leadership in that area.”
Far from an under-the-radar scoring threat in the Lightning lineup, Steven Stamkos will once again receive the lion’s share of the attention from Montreal’s defenders following his two-goal, five-shot performance in Game 1.
“He’s a world-class player and they’re tough to contain. Even if you try to get the best defensive game plan regarding those players, they’re always going to find a way – that’s why they’re world-class players,” explained Therrien, who tried to match the Prust-Plekanec-Gallagher line against Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn as often as possible in Game 1. “[Stamkos] had two scoring chances and bang: two goals. They’re elite, special players and it’s always a challenge for the guys on the ice to play against players like that.”
Moving on quickly from a big win in Game 1, the Canadiens are refocused and ready to start again from scratch in the second game of the series on Friday night. Wednesday’s overtime hero, Dale Weise credits the team’s leadership-by-committee approach to maintaining an even keel in the playoffs.
“I think we have great leadership in this locker room. It keeps guys grounded when we have good games and we don’t dissect things too much when we have bad games,” shared Weise, who arrived in Montreal via a trade with Vancouver in February. “We have some things we want to tighten up from last game but we didn’t dwell on that and at the same time we don’t think we’re awesome because we scored five goals. The poise on this team is unbelievable.”
Carey Price will get his second start of the postseason, once again slated to face Anders Lindback at the other end of the ice. The only expected lineup change for the Lightning is Tom Pyatt sliding in to replace Tampa forward Ondrej Palat who was injured in Game 1.
- All players were on the ice for Montreal, including Travis Moen (concussion) who joined his teammates for practice in a white jersey. Michel Therrien confirmed that Moen was progressing well and is following protocol but will not be available for Game 2.
- Injured Tampa netminder Ben Bishop was on the ice before his teammates in the morning, but didn’t take any shots. Tampa coach Jon Cooper indicated the timetable for his goaltender’s return was “not soon”.
- The Canadiens once again split up into two groups during practice to work on special teams. Thomas Vanek, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec, Rene Bourque, Daniel Briere, Brendan Gallagher, P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and Alexei Emelin were with the PP group.
Michel Therrien refused to give details on the lines he’s planning to ice against the Lightning to kick off the first round, but he confirmed that Brandon Prust would be back in the lineup after missing the final 12 games of the season with an upper body injury.
“He’s had two good practices with our team. He’s excited and we’re all excited about him being back in the lineup,” explained Therrien, who has been without the services of the 30-year-old forward since March 18. “He’s a leader, he’s a tough guy to play against, he’s got speed, and most importantly, he’s a gamer.”
Facing a squad with 12 players who have yet to take part in an NHL Playoff game, the Canadiens will have the edge in the experience department against Tampa. With 28 postseason games under his belt, Prust has learned his share of playoff lessons over the years, but he also knows that once the puck drops on Wednesday night, there won’t be any playoff virgins left on either side and every player on the ice will be privy to those same lessons.
|Playoff media contingent|
“We have a lot of guys who have played in the playoffs, but you can’t underestimate young kids coming in like they have nothing to lose. They’re going to be excited to play and they’re going to be coming hard,” predicted Prust, who counts four points and 49 penalty minutes among his postseason totals. “With experience, you learn what it takes to win and you realize how hard it is and how much work it takes. It’s not easy. There are no shifts off and there are no nights off. You have to be ready and on your game every second. It’s the fastest hockey you play all year. You have to adjust and you have to adjust quickly.”
“What I like about Bournival is his speed,” explained Therrien, who will sit Ryan White in place of Bournival against the Bolts. “We’re playing against a fast team and he’s a great forechecker who can kill penalties. That’s a role he’s had for us this season. He’s going to be enjoying his playoff baptism since it’s his first playoff game in the NHL, so for sure he’ll be nervous but nerves can be a positive thing. He’s a guy who can make his mark in a game like this with his speed and his intensity.”
Tampa’s three goaltenders, Ben Bishop, Kristers Gudlevskis and Anders Lindback have played a combined one NHL playoff game in their careers, while Carey Price has seen action in the postseason 30 times in his career. While Lightning coach Jon Cooper would not reveal who his starter will be for Wednesday’s game, confirming only “not Ben Bishop”, the Canadiens won’t be changing their game plan no matter who Tampa puts between the pipes in Game 1. As expected, Price will get the start for Montreal, entering the series having posted an impeccable 1.42 goals-against average and .956 save percentage in four games against Tampa in 2013-14.
Price will play a big role in helping hold Tampa sniper Steven Stamkos off the scoresheet, but the Canadiens have shut down the NHL’s leading sharpshooters all season by employing a six-man approach to defense. Without the luxury of having last change on the road, Therrien will count on every player in his lineup to be responsible at both ends of the ice.
“First of all, we don’t have last change, and I’m not a fan of making hard changes,” shared the Habs bench boss. “I try to match as well as I can and anticipate, but my philosophy is that when guys are on the ice and it’s not the matchup we’re looking for, as a coach I’ve got to show confidence to the players that they can and will do the job for the team.”
Looking to maintain a business-as-usual approach to his first career NHL playoff series behind the bench, Cooper hasn’t changed much on the planning front ahead of Game 1, although he spent the morning skate juggling his lines to keep the Canadiens guessing on which combos will be together when the puck drops.
“If you want to see my lines, come to the game tonight,” joked the Lighting coach, who won the Calder Cup with the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals in 2012. “The only difference [between the regular season and the playoffs] is we usually just have one little Web cam and now there are a few more cameras. And it’s a little hotter in this room. Other than that, we’re looking at this like Game 83 of the season we want to win.”
- Carey Price and Peter Budaj were first out on the ice under the supervision of goaltending coach Stephane Waite.
- Travis Moen made his return to practice. He wore a purple no-contact jersey and practiced alongside Ryan White and George Parros.
- The team worked on quick five-men breakouts in the first minutes of practice, then progressed to up-tempo rush drills.
- Lars Eller centered Rene Bourque and Brian Gionta. He should be good to go for Game 1.
- After practice, Michel Therrien did mention that his lines are subject to change before Wednesday night's Game 1.
LINES AT PRACTICE
- Lars Eller was back skating with his teammates after missing three games with an illness. Eller confirmed he’s back to 100% healthy and just needs to work on his timing to be ready for game situations.
“It was good to get back out there today and feel the ice. I’m sure that I’ll be fine for Wednesday,” confirmed the 25-year-old forward. “It was better getting sick there than a week later, but there’s never a good time to get sick.”
- Brandon Prust, who missed the last 12 games with an upper body injury, was also back with the team after working on body checking alongside strength coach Pierre Allard after Saturday’s morning skate. Prust is still considered day-to-day and Michel Therrien would not confirm whether he would be ready for Game 1 on Wednesday.
- Travis Moen (concussion) skated on his own earlier in the morning and did not join his teammates for the full practice.
- Therrien once again split the team into two groups, focused specifically on special teams work. Jean-Jacques Daigneault stayed on the first rink with the white team (penalty kill), while Gerard Gallant and Clement Jodoin worked on the power play with the red group, including P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Max Pacioretty, Rene Bourque, Alexei Emelin, Tomas Plekanec, Josh Gorges, Brendan Gallagher, Daniel Briere, David Desharnais, Thomas Vanek.
The Canadiens' 1-0 overtime victory against the Rangers on Saturday moved them one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning for second place in the Atlantic Division and the home-ice edge in their first-round series. The Lightning need a victory against the Washington Capitals on Sunday to pass the Canadiens for second place.
- The Canadiens held an optional skate at the Bell Sports Complex on Saturday morning ahead of their tilt against the New York Rangers at the Bell Centre. Fifteen players took part in the on-ice session.
- Those present included forwards Ryan White, Dale Weise, Daniel Briere, George Parros, Michael Bournival, Brandon Prust, Mike Blunden and Brendan Gallagher, along with defensemen Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Mike Weaver, Alexei Emelin, Douglas Murray and Jarred Tinordi. Goaltender Peter Budaj was also on the ice.
- Brandon Prust skated alongside his teammates for the first time since sustaining an upper-body injury in mid-March, taking to the ice for the duration of the morning skate. The 30-year-old also spent some added time with Canadiens strength and conditioning coach, Pierre Allard, working on absorbing physical contact along the boards.
It’s safe to say Prust’s return to practice was a welcome sight for Canadiens players and coaches, who are looking forward to welcoming the gritty left-winger – and his added facial hair – back to the lineup in short order.
“I really liked his beard out there today. I think it brought a little added motivation for the boys out there for the playoffs. That’s something special he’s got growing there. I kind of like it,” said right-winger Dale Weise, who enjoyed good on-ice chemistry with Prust before the London, ON native was injured three weeks ago. “Good for him to get back out there. He looked pretty good, and it looks like he should be good to go for the start of the playoffs.”
- Mike Blunden, who hasn’t suited up for the Canadiens since Nov. 1 against Minnesota, will be in the lineup on Saturday night against the Rangers in place of George Parros. Called up on Friday from the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, Blunden is chomping at the bit to see game action at such a critical time of year.
“I already know what Michel [Therrien] expects of me. I’m just going to go out there and do my best,” offered the 27-year-old right-winger, who has 10 goals, 22 points and 76 penalty minutes in 54 games with the Bulldogs during the 2013-14 campaign. “It’s the last game of the year. It’s a big game. We’re playing for home-ice advantage. It’s always fun playing on Saturday nights at the Bell Centre. I’m sure it’s going to be loud and crazy.”
- Lars Eller was not present at practice as he remains sidelined due to illness. He will not suit up against the Rangers on Saturday night.
- The Lightning’s 3-2 victory over the Blue Jackets on Friday night vaulted head coach Jon Cooper’s squad ahead of the Canadiens in the Atlantic Division standings heading into the Habs’ final game of the regular season on Saturday night. The win also put Tampa Bay in the driver’s seat in the race to secure home-ice advantage for their opening-round matchup against Montreal, as they now lead the Canadiens by a single point.
After a tough outing against the Islanders earlier in the week, however, the Habs' primary focus remains on turning in a stellar effort against a Rangers squad that is also playoff-bound.
“We'd love to have home-ice advantage. That’s an especially good thing when you’re playing here in Montreal with the atmosphere that we can bring. But, the most important thing is that we’re playing the right way. We want to focus in on the details, and play a playoff-style game tonight,” offered Josh Gorges. “I don’t like using the term “must win”. We’ve got to prepare to win, and we’ve got to prepare the right way in order to win a big game. This is a good team we’re playing. More than anything, we want to make sure that we’re playing the right way. You can’t go in with the mindset of a must-win game. Hockey doesn’t work that way. But, if we play the right way, do the right things and give ourselves a chance, we can live with the outcome as long as we do things the right way.”
- The Canadiens announced the signing of goaltender Dustin Tokarski to a two-year contract extension on Saturday. Details are available here.
Words From The Room - Apr. 12
Game preview: MTL vs. NYR
Canadiens sign goaltender Dustin Tokarski to a two-year contract extension