The final countdown
While it’s still far from certain that the Canadiens and Maple Leafs will face each other in the first round of the 2012-13 playoffs, the atmosphere surrounding the Air Canada Centre on Saturday afternoon seemed to suggest that puck-drop for Game 1 was only a few hours away.
However the chips fall, the Canadiens have already secured home-ice advantage for themselves when the playoffs start. However, a Saturday night win in Toronto would give the Habs the best chance at vaulting past the Bruins who still have two tough games to play against the Washington Capitals and the Ottawa Senators in the next 48 hours, and finishing in second place in the Eastern Conference. But all that matters now for the Habs is facing off against a Maple Leafs squad, clearly confident heading into the match-up following comments made on Friday afternoon concerning their size advantage over Montreal.
|The Habs wrap up practice at the Air Canada Centre|
“We’re all aware of their comments. At the same time, I think I prefer to keep what I think about that to myself and inside our dressing room,” said head coach Michel Therrien following his team’s morning skate, opting to avoid a potential war or words and instead addressing the topic of his choice for that night’s starting goaltender.
“We had a plan for our goaltenders this week and Peter Budaj hasn’t gotten a start in 10 days,” continued the Habs’ bench boss, of his decision to start the Slovakian netminder. “At this point we want to have everybody as ready as possible for the playoffs and for us that means that Budaj should start this game. I’ve really been happy with the way Carey has played this week and I think he’s ready for the playoffs.”
Around the Canadiens’ dressing room, the players addressed the throngs of media with similar comments about the importance of Saturday’s game and what it means with the NHL’s second season mere days away.
“This is a playoff game, this is a playoff atmosphere. We want to be rolling as we go into playoffs here and playing our best hockey, so this is a huge game to prime us up. We want two points and we want to do all the small things that make us play well and focus on that,” expressed Brandon Prust, who along with the rest of his team clearly wasn’t putting too much stock in the one-inch, six-pound average height-weight margin the Leafs hold over them. “With his group in here, we’ve got a lot of character and we’re not worried. They might have bigger size but it’s not always the size of the dog in the fight that matters.”
If there’s one thing that can be said about the Canadiens-Maple Leafs series this year is that it’s been an emotional one for both teams. Saturday night likely won’t be any different. According to rookie Brendan Gallagher – often at his chippiest this season when facing the Leafs – harnessing that emotion could be the key to victory for the Habs.
“Emotions are going to be out tonight. It’s not something you can hide. You’re going to see frustration, you’re going to see excitment and all the other levels of emotion in between, but it’s all about managing that,” said the Calder Trophy candidate, whose only NHL fight of the season came against the Leafs’ Mike Kostka on Feb. 9. “At this time of the year it’s all about not being selfish and always putting the team before yourself. They play their game, they play to their strengths; we play to ours. Both teams are very good teams, both teams have played good hockey all year.
“You can’t get too high when you do something well, can’t get to low when you make a mistake,” he concluded. “Like I said, it’s a game of emotions and whoever manages that the best is probably going to come out on top.”
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.