Underestimated, pushed aside and all but forgotten. That pretty much sums up what many thought of the Canadiens as they headed into the postseason. The players all know it, but none of them ever believed it.
“We’re finally getting a taste of what this team is all about,” said Gionta. “We knew all along that we had a special group of guys in this room and that we had the character and the leadership to do some good things. We just had to put it all together.”
Underestimated, pushed aside and all but forgotten. That also aptly describes Lapierre’s nightmarish season.
No player mirrors the turnaround the Canadiens have undergone since the start of the playoffs like Lapierre. The hero of Game 6 thanks to his eventual game-winning goal, Lapierre has refused to go quietly this season and his team has done the same.
“Sure he’s scoring some big goals for us now, but this didn’t happen overnight for Max – it’s been building,” explained Gionta. “He’s never stopped playing hard no matter what his role has been this season. He knows what he needs to do to be successful. He’s forechecking hard, getting under opponent’s skin and doing all the right things. He’s going to the net hard too and we saw that in each of his goals in this series.”
As Lapierre suffered through a tough year that saw his production drop to seven goals from 15 only a season ago, it would have been easy to assume the scrappy center was in his new coach’s doghouse. But luckily for Lapierre, Jacques Martin has been a card-carrying member of Lappy fan club for sometime now.
“Even before I arrived in Montreal, he was a player that always caught my eye,” admitted the former GM/coach of the Panthers. “I saw him as a player with definite assets who brings a lot of energy to every shift. He’s a player who can contribute to a team in many ways.”
The heat Lapierre felt this season after setting the bar as high as he did in 2008-09 didn’t change what his game is all about – heart. While Lapierre boasts a functional one just like the rest of his teammates, there must be something rare about his left and right ventricles.
“He cares. It means a lot to Maxim to play for this team,” said Martin. “He is committed to what we’re trying to do here. As a coach when you have that from a player, you build on it. It makes me happy to see him have success.”
Always one to face the music win or lose for the Canadiens, Lapierre had to wade through the media throng that surrounded his stall this time for all the right reasons.
“When I’ll look back at my season, I know I can say that I’ve grown up this year,” admitted Lapierre. “It hasn’t been easy for me. I had ankle problems all season long and now I feel better physically and mentally. The regular season is over and done with. This is playoff time and I know what my role is.”
If ever Lapierre dares to forget that role, he will have 21,273 people ready to loudly remind him of it after every hit.
“The crowd can make all the difference and they were incredible after I scored that goal,” recalled Lapierre of his game-winner in Game 6. “Even when you feel tired, the crowd is there to give that extra boost right when you need it.”
There are 23 guys on their way to Pittsburgh who feel the same way about him.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com.
The general public invited to watch the decisive game in HD at the Bell Centre
The Numbers Game - May 10, 2010