Calm before the storm
BROSSARD – With 33 games to play, the Habs take a breath before beginning their final push to the playoffs that starts Tuesday night with the Sabres.
With the All-Star break at their backs, the Canadiens reunited in Brossard on Monday, prepared to embark on the final leg of their season. Sitting eight points back of the eighth place New Jersey Devils, the 11th seeded Habs know they’ll have their work cut out for them if they hope to crack the NHL’s second season – a challenge they’re anxious to face.
“It’s all in our hands now. We’re playing against a lot of teams that aren’t very far off from us. Our team is in pretty good health for one of the first times all year and we’ll get to see what that will mean for us in the end,” said David Desharnais, who has played a major contributing factor in the team’s recent surge. The Canadiens return to action Tuesday night against the Sabres looking to build off a strong end to January that saw them collect seven out of the last 10 points up for grabs.
“I think the key to this push is going to be kicking things off on the right foot. If we start off strong we’ll be able to build some momentum and keep things going,” added Desharnais, who along with linemates Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty represent the Canadiens’ top three point-scorers. “We have two wins in a row behind us, and now we have to make sure we continue on that path. The break was a good thing for everyone. Now it’s time to get to work.”
Having traded in scoring goals to step up his defensive game in the Habs’ 7-2 routing of the league-best, Detroit Red Wings, Lars Eller pointed out just how important perspective will be when dealing with the challenges that lie ahead.
“We should only be looking at this next game for now, because we still have a pretty big mountain to climb and there are a lot of teams ahead of us,” said Eller, who along with the rest of the Habs will spend seven of the next eight games battling Eastern Conference teams separated from them by eight points or less in the standings. “If you look at the big picture, it can seem pretty daunting – even more than it might actually be in reality. That’s why we need to take this one step at a time and that starts tomorrow with Buffalo.
“I didn’t think about hockey at all over the break,” added the 22-year-old Dane of how he treated his recent time off. “We think about it so much and put so much pressure on ourselves already over the course of the season, that especially with our position in the standings right now, we didn’t need even more. It does good to step back for a few days sometimes.”
One of the team’s steadying presences both on the ice and in the room, Josh Gorges seemed eager to get back to the business of deciding his team’s fate on Monday afternoon. Logging a team-high 21:30 of ice time against Detroit, Gorges has no illusions about what it will take to extend the Canadiens’ season.
“I think we have a group of guys here prepared to fight for this. It’s obviously not an easy road. It’s going to be tough – we’re going to be in a battle every single night. We’re not going to win every game and we have to be prepared for that, but the guys we have are ready to really go for this push,” confirmed Gorges. “We’re going to make it interesting.”
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.