It took 131 saves in three games from Jaroslav Halak for the Canadiens to re-write history and catapult the No. 8 seed into the second round in the first place. Heading into Game 3 against Pittsburgh, the Habs will be looking to make sure home ice really is an advantage this time around.
“I think in your first playoff game in this building, everyone is really excited,” explained Hal Gill, who got his first taste of playoff hockey inside the Bell Centre for the home team this year. “We’ve had good starts in this building. We have to come out with a big start again, but we have to maintain that energy throughout the whole game – that’s the hard part. We had that desperation in Game 6 and we have to find it again tonight.”
With seven of the eight first round series having been clinched on the road, Gill realizes that home sweet home has been anything but for most teams so far in these playoffs.
“Home ice is a huge advantage for us if we use it the right way. We have to play a smart game – we can’t see the crowd,” warned the ex-Penguin, who will look to continue shutting down his former captain on Tuesday night. “There will be times when they are going to get buzzing and the crowd is going to get quiet, but we just have to work through that. We can’t let that be discouraging. We have to power through that and use the crowd and their momentum when they’re cheering to carry us.”
While Gill has been a 6-foot-7 fountain of knowledge for the Canadiens to learn from this spring, the Habs with far patchier playoff beards also realize how steep their learning curve will have to be to pull off a second-straight postseason upset.
“In Montreal, the atmosphere can be a little crazy,” admitted rookie center Tom Pyatt, whose view for the playoffs has changed dramatically since his days watching on TV a season ago. “It was incredible to experience that in the first round, but I think it will be even louder here now. I think having been through this once already will help us now.
“You try not to think about the crowd too much,” continued the 20-year-old pivot, who played 15:48 in Game 2. “It’s hard when you’re on the ice because it’s so loud in here, but you have to stay grounded. You can’t get too excited because then you’re just running around and you’re not focused.”
According to Michael Cammalleri, the biggest lesson he and his teammates learned from those two home losses against the Caps was to make sure they were taking advantage of the comforts of home while they can.
“We learned not to stay in a hotel when we’re at home – that wasn’t a good omen for us,” joked Cammalleri. “It was disappointing to come back home and lose those two games and sitting here now we have that one series of experience sitting under our belt. We’d like to really take advantage of these two games now. We’re happy to be home and we understand the importance of it – we don’t want to be down 3-1 again, that’s for sure.”
With eight goals in nine games so far in the postseason, playing under pressure is nothing new to Cammalleri. After seeing the Bell Centre faithful at their finest during Game 6 against Washington, he knows exactly what to expect from his 21,273 No. 1 fans when the puck drops for Game 3 against the Pens.
“We have to be careful in our room not to be too excited. You try to keep your excitement level and sustain it throughout the game,” explained Cammalleri. “We had some good 10 minute starts but then it trailed off from there. It’s important for us to enjoy the crowd and to realize we need to play a full hockey game. Trust me: the crowd will be even happier if we win.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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