No love lost
At this time a year ago, the Canadiens and Penguins were nothing more than NHL adversaries. Two of 30 teams on the league circuit. That's clearly no longer the case.
Some rivalries are decades or generations in the making, while others need little more than an epic playoff encounter. A stunning postseason upset doesn’t hurt, either.
Judging from the welcome the Penguins gave the Canadiens in their first meeting since being stunned by the Habs in the second round of the 2010 playoffs, no Pittsburgh-Montreal match-up will ever be same.
"Both teams really wanted it and there was a little tension out there," admitted P.K. Subban in the understatement of the season so far. "There was probably some bad blood there from the playoffs, too."
In addition to the two points in the standings, Subban came away with a nasty gash from a Mike Comrie high-stick.
"It wasn't on purpose and Comrie apologized to me a few times and I have the utmost respect for those guys," continued Subban. " [Sidney] Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin are not only some of the best players in the league, but in the world. I'm here to do my job and that's keep the puck from ending up in our net and I'm going to do what I have to do."
Subban's efforts drew the attention of Penguins fans who serenaded the rookie blue-liner with boos each time he touched the puck.
"I'm pretty used to it since it happened to me a lot all through junior. It's not like I don't hear it, but I'm just focused on doing my job," added Subban. "The fans here are really passionate and it's fun to play here with all the energy in this building."
When the Pens weren’t chasing Subban all over the ice on Saturday night, they were busy attcking Maxim Lapierre, who dropped the gloves with Comrie and was sucker-punched by Maxime Talbot .
"There are guys in the league who know how to push people's buttons. I played against the guy and I hated him; there's no one I despised more," admitted Gomez with a smile of Lapierre. "I remember coming through Montreal not knowing his name and I still hated the guy. When Maxy plays like that we're a different team. Every team has a guy like him, but ours is just a little better at what he does."
Despite being only the second game of the season for both clubs, the contest smacked of playoff intensity. With a combined 74 hits thrown, the showdown almost seemed like Game 8 of the seven game series won by the Habs in the spring.
"There was a lot of chirping out there," said Michael Cammalleri, who scored a pair of goals for Habs. "There were a lot of good battles and games like this are fun to play. Besides, if they liked to play against us, there would be something wrong."
If for some odd reason it isn't already circled on your calendar, the Habs and Pens will do it all over again on January 12 at the Bell Centre.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com.
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So long, Mellon Arena