One step at a time
Although Gainey openly admits that back in September he didn’t expect to see his club end up atop the Eastern Conference seven months later, he did see his young squad’s confidence grow as the year progressed.
“The first half of the season was a matter of preparing our team after having made room for our young players,” explained Gainey. “Over the second half of the season, we began to see the results of our efforts and an improvement in our overall play.”
In a season filled with pleasant surprises, Gainey had an embarrassment of riches from which to choose before singling out a certain young defenseman.
“Josh Gorges made the most of the opportunity we gave him,” said Gainey. “By doing all he did to earn his spot, he forced others to do the same.
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Seeing his young players develop so quickly is no accident according to Gainey, who credits his greybeards for paving the way.
“Having experience is important,” underlined Gainey. “Our success over the past three months is thanks in large part to our veteran players. Players like Alex Kovalev, Bryan Smolinski, Roman Hamrlik, Mathieu Dandenault and Patrice Brisebois have all helped pass on our team message. And now for our younger players, Playoffs 101 begins on Thursday night.”
Lofty comparisons to Gainey’s former teammates like Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy are inevitable when the focus shifts to how the team opted to entrust an unproven rookie goalie like Carey Price with the Habs’ playoff destiny. But Gainey would hear no part of how the Canadiens are following a script that has led to Stanley Cups in the past.
“I don’t think we as a team have a lock on the notion of turning to a young goalie for the playoffs,” said Gainey. “I seem to recall us running into one against Carolina a few years back and Cam Ward went on to win the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy. It all comes down to using the best available player. Most of our fans and the media didn’t get to see firsthand what Carey did last spring in Hamilton, but I did.”
While Gainey’s ultimate goal at this time of year remains unchanged from his playing days, he knows all too well how long a road awaits his young team.
“The goal is to win the Stanley Cup,” concluded Gainey. “But to do that, we need to beat Boston first.”
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com