NEW YORK – With Brandon Prust out for the next two games, the Canadiens will need to find a way to soldier on without him.
Ready to serve the first game of a two-game suspension for his hit on Derek Stepan, Prust will be forced to watch Game 4 from the Madison Square Garden pressbox on Sunday night. As the series heats up and the rivalry continues to brew between the two teams, the Habs won’t be able to count on Prust’s physical brand of hockey for the next two games. While they know how hard it will be to replace the intangibles the gritty winger brings to the lineup, they’re confident in their ability to step up and throw their weight around by committee.
“Obviously it will be a tough loss for us, but we have a lot of guys who can fill in and pick up the slack,” mentioned Habs captain Brian Gionta of the rugged forward, who is fourth on the team with 34 hits this spring and has accounted for both of the Canadiens’ only two postseason fights. “We have guys who are ready to go. You’ve got a [Travis] Moen or Bournival, who is a young kid with a lot of energy. You have guys who can fill the role that Prust has and they’re more than capable of doing it.”
In addition to Prust’s ability to play the body with authority, he’s also been Michel Therrien’s third-most used forward on the penalty kill during the postseason. While the Habs’ bench boss kept his cards predictably-close to his vest during his media availability regarding who will slide into the lineup on Sunday night, he had rookie forward Michael Bournival skating with Dale Weise and Daniel Briere during Saturday’s practice.
“Michael helps me on the ice, first because of his speed. He’s always on the puck and he never stops working,” praised Briere, who helped ease the rookie forward into his NHL playoff debut against Tampa as a linemate at the start of the postseason. “Because of that, he can create scoring chances on the forecheck. That’s one of his biggest strengths. Having a guy like him in the lineup against the Rangers could definitely help. A player with his speed could really help the team.”
Having missed the last two games as a healthy scratch, Bournival will be well-rested and ready to put his wheels in motion from the opening puck drop if he does get the call for Game 4. With Travis Moen, Ryan White and George Parros also at his disposal, Therrien will have no shortage of options when it comes to upping the team’s physical quotient up front, but his practice lineup also hinted at the possibility of adding a little more sandpaper to the back end. Paired with Mike Weaver for the skate, Francis Bouillon could make his return to action after sitting out the last eight games.
“I don’t even know if I’m playing yet so it’s hard to say, but the good thing for me is I have experience,” mentioned Bouillon, who was thrown back into the lineup during the regular season after seven- and eight-game absences. “When you’re young, you’re going to be a little more nervous when you come back in, but I did that a lot this year and I’m a little calmer. It takes a few shifts, but you get back into it pretty quickly.
“It’s not easy,” added the veteran blue-liner. “Everyone is proud to be where we are now and you want to be a part of it. At the same time, when you’re not playing you have to be a good teammate and just be patient and work hard so when you do get the call, you’re ready to go.”
While being parachuted into the fray in the middle of a heated Eastern Conference final series could be intimidating, the Canadiens’ captain isn’t concerned about the potential for nerves taking over for any newcomers in Game 4.
“It’s part of being a professional and part of keeping yourself ready,” he underlined. “Frankie has done a great job all year of whenever he’s missed significant time, he’s been able to come in and be ready. It’s the same thing with the young guys. You get the passion and the energy of a young guy and you just have to channel in the right manner. Whoever is in will be ready to go.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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