BROSSARD – Michel Therrien can count on some insider information as he prepares his troops for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon at the Bell Centre.
Two of Therrien’s regulars – Brandon Prust and Dale Weise – each suited up for the Blueshirts over the course of their respective NHL careers, and they know first-hand what the celebrated Original Six franchise – and some of the their players and coaches – are all about.
After downing the Bruins in a hard-fought seven-game series, Prust is adamant that the Canadiens will have to bring nothing but their best to the table against a Rangers club that shocked the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2 by overcoming a 3-1 series deficit amidst the sudden loss of star forward Martin St. Louis’ mother.
“The rivalry against the Bruins definitely brought out emotion. Honestly, it just gets more and more emotional as you get closer to the Stanley Cup. It goes to a whole new level from here on out,” offered Prust, who spent three seasons with the Rangers prior to joining the Canadiens in 2012-13. “We’ll need to take the same approach, play with the same speed, be aggressive on the forecheck and make their defensemen work. The same goes for our ability to go to the net, get rebounds, and most importantly play a physical brand of hockey.”
That won’t be too hard for Prust, whose playing style certainly fits that mold. The same can be said for Weise, who is primed to battle a Rangers team that drafted him 111th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
“What do I like about the Rangers? Well, what’s there not to like about them? They’ve got an elite goaltender. I saw it with my own eyes. Henrik Lundqvist is outstanding. They have solid D. They have good speed and they’re strong up front. Their smaller players are feisty and they battle for the puck. It will be a good matchup,” insisted Weise, who made his NHL debut with the Rangers in 2010-11 before being claimed off waivers by the Canucks in Oct. 2011.
Like Prust, Weise believes a business-like mentality is the only sure-fire way to approach a series with so much at stake, especially against a Rangers team that is strikingly similar to them in more ways than one. That was evident during the regular season. The two teams met three times, and all three contests ended in low-scoring shutouts with the Canadiens coming out on top on two occasions.
“We both played in do-or-die Game 7 situations last round, and both of our teams were desperate. For them, it was about winning three games in a row. For us, it was about winning two. I think that level of compete is going to be there because it’s the Conference Finals,” added Weise, who has three goals and five points in 11 tilts during the 2014 playoffs. “I don’t think anything is going to drop off. Our building is going to be rocking on Saturday afternoon. It’s going to be nuts. We’re looking forward to it.”
It’s safe to say Weise is also anticipating a reunion of sorts with Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault, who just happened to be his former bench boss in Vancouver in 2011-12 and 2012-13. Having spent two seasons under Vigneault’s tutelage, the 25-year-old insists New York will be well-prepared to give the Habs all they can handle come the series-opener.
“I played for Vigneault, and I know how much he likes his teams to compete. Everyone on that team has to compete hard to play,” stressed the Winnipeg, MB native, who boasts two game-winning markers for the Canadiens during their current playoff run. “He’s very thorough, especially in the playoffs. He’s detailed on every single aspect of the game, and he’ll have video on every single aspect of our team. They’ll be very, very ready for us.”
With that in mind, Prust is adamant that matching the Rangers’ compete level and intensity shift after shift is only part of the Canadiens’ overall game plan. The other part involves doing whatever's necessary to disrupt Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes.
“He’s truly among the star goaltenders out there,” admitted the seven-year NHL vet, before going on to describe how the Canadiens plan on making the Swedish netminder’s job as tough as possible during the series. “He’s really strong mentally. We’ll try to rattle his confidence from the start. We’re going to throw pucks at him whenever we can and try to create some panic around him.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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