Humbled in Game 1 against the Penguins and down their blue-line anchor, the Habs found themselves in a familiar position heading into Game 2. Written off and dismissed as the Cinderella story of these playoffs that had just cracked its glass slipper, the Canadiens again rose to the occasion, shocking everyone in the hockey world outside of their own dressing room.
“It was tough to be without [Andrei Markov] as long as we were this season, but I think that definitely helped us carry on without him here now,” explained Brian Gionta of the Russian blue-liner’s three month absence from October to December. “We got through that as a team and we did it again. That’s how we’ve been successful so far, doing it all together as a group.”
They may not be linemates or “complete” each other like Gionta and his sidekick Scott Gomez, but Cammalleri is definitely picking up what Gio is laying down.
“I couldn’t think more of Andrei as a player, but winning without him is a reminder to everyone that hockey is above all a team game and it’s never about one player,” said Cammalleri, now the league leader with eight playoff goals already. “Of course we’d love to have Marky back more than anything, but this team has shown it can find ways to win.”
So, how does an underdog team soldier on without arguably its best player? What type of massive comb-over had to be done to cover the glaring bald spot caused by Markov’s absence? Few would have thought the answer lay in the hands of a 20-year-old rookie, but P.K. Subban has proven to be the perfect toupee for the Habs’ blue line.
“I’m just here to help this team in any way I can,” shrugged Subban after logging a career-high 23:17 of ice time. “If that means playing two minutes, I’ll play two minutes. If that means playing 20 minutes, I’ll play 20 minutes. If that means filling all the water bottles, I’ll do that too.”
As impressive as Subban’s steep learning curve has been, he knows full well he hasn’t made his transition alone. Having a half-dozen helping hands hasn’t hurt, either.
“The veteran guys on this team have just made things so much easier for me. I’m learning all the time. I learn just watching Gill and Gorges blocking shots the way they do and playing with a guy who’s been there like Hammer has helped me, too,” continued Subban, who has proven to be a quick study in the ways of the 2009-10 Canadiens. “We don’t give up. I haven’t been here long, but I’ve figured out pretty quickly that’s what drives this team.”
Tied 1-1 and headed back to Montreal, the Canadiens can expect their usual welcome when they hit the ice for Game 3 on Tuesday at the Bell Centre.
“We did our part by coming in here and getting one to come home tied and you know our fans will always do their part,” said Scott Gomez. “I heard a lot about what being in the playoffs with this team was like before I even got here. I think we’re about to be reminded of that when we get back home to Montreal.”
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com.
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