Old stompin’ grounds
Back on Madison Square Garden ice for the first time since Game 4 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals, Prust looked right at home in his first-ever game as a visitor at MSG on Tuesday. Every bit the heart and soul player while wearing bleu-blanc-rouge as he had been in red, white and blue for the past three seasons, Prust led the Habs in hits, picked up an assist, made a key third-period block and finished a game-high plus-3 in his return to Manhattan.
“It was more excitement, but there were definitely some nerves; I didn’t have much of a nap this afternoon,” admitted Prust on his feelings heading into Tuesday’s game. “I was a little anxious to get here but once the puck drops and you get a couple of shifts in you, it goes away.
“Obviously you’re up for a game against your old team, back in Madison Square Garden, so I was definitely amped up, but we were pretty tired out there,” he added, having fired the team’s first shot of the game just over 16 minutes into the opening frame. “It was a slow start; we got in pretty late last night and had just played a game so we were focused on grinding out a win.”
After averaging 11:56 of ice time per game with New York last year while co-leading the league with 20 fighting majors, Prust has been proving all season long how effective he can be with his gloves on this year.
“Today was more about getting two points,” mentioned the shifty winger, who played 16:26 on Tuesday night. “We just played a game last night so we were pretty exhausted. I think if I would’ve gotten in a fight tonight, it would’ve lasted about 10 seconds – I was just trying to manage my shifts.”
Despite spoiling the party for the home team by setting up the game-winning goal, the former Rangers fan favorite even got some love from the notoriously tough MSG crowd when his name was announced following his assist.
“I think I heard a little cheer for that, which was nice,” he shared. “I think the Ranger fans were happy with my time here and respect that so it’s good to hear.”
With the gritty win over the Rangers, the Habs moved into first place in the Eastern Conference for the first time since October 2010. Following his team’s fifth-straight win, Prust made no secret of what’s made the Canadiens so successful this season.
“We’re all buying into the game plan and everybody’s on the same page,” he explained. “We’re playing hard, we’re realizing what it takes to be successful and everybody’s doing it.”
According to his coach and unofficial member of his growing fan club in Montreal, another factor in the team’s rise to the top of the East has been the willingness of the players throughout the lineup to play Prust’s particular brand of hockey.
“[Brandon] is a gamer,” stressed Michel Therrien. “We like him a lot. That was a special game for him and I thought he was a real warrior on the ice for us.”
As a little added incentive to pull away with a win against his old team, Prust also came to the rink prepared to put some cash on the board for whoever potted the game winner. So, does he get to take half back after setting up Alex Galchenyuk for the winning goal himself?
“I should! I wish it worked like that, but it doesn’t,” he laughed. “Playing with those two guys [Galchenyuk and Lars Eller], they’re really skilled so you have to be ready for the puck. I’m trying to get them the puck as much as I can because they’re making plays and that was just another one tonight.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.