Silencing the critics
BOSTON – The Canadiens are earning respect this postseason, one win at a time.
Before the second round started, most analysts and experts weren’t calling a series win for the Montreal Canadiens, even after seeing the Habs sweep the Lightning in Round 1. Despite finishing with 100 points in the standings, boasting the reigning Norris Trophy winner on the blue line and counting two Olympic gold medallists in the lineup, the Canadiens came into the playoffs as the league’s answer to Rodney Dangerfield, unable to get any respect.
Using the doubters as motivation, the Habs entered the Conference semifinals ready to keep proving prognosticators wrong.
“In the first round, not a lot of people gave us a chance. It wasn’t even a halfway split in Tampa Bay’s favor,” recalled Daniel Briere, who surpassed Sidney Crosby for the sixth spot on the NHL’s active playoff scoring leaderboard with his 114th and 115th career postseason points on Wednesday night. “I don’t know too many people who called this one. Playing with that edge works for us.”
Facing elimination for the second time this series, the Habs showed up at TD Garden for a do-or-die Game 7 in Boston not ready to pack their bags for the summer. Instead of cleaning out their stalls on Thursday, they’ll be heading back to Montreal to start preparing for another Original Six playoff matchup, this time against the Rangers. Punching their ticket for the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2010, the Habs are carving out a spot among the league’s elite teams this spring, whether their naysayers are ready to buy in or not.
“It comes down to respect,” underlined P.K. Subban, who was called up just in time to take part in the team’s Cinderella run to the Conference finals four years ago, when the eighth-seeded Habs knocked off the President’s Trophy winners in Washington before doing the same to the reigning Cup champs in Pittsburgh. “I think we’ve done a lot of great things in this league since I’ve been here. Our team has done a lot but we’ve failed to get the respect that I think we deserve and I think now we’ve earned it.
“More importantly, especially the guys who have been here and were there for that run in 2010 and who were there when we lost Game 7 [in 2011] are sick and tired of people disrespecting us and not giving us the credit we deserve,” added the 25-year-old rearguard, who leads all NHL defensemen with 12 points this postseason. “We’re a good group of guys in here and a character group and I think we earned a lot of respect today.”
Earning respect in his own right with his knack for coming up clutch in big games, Dale Weise came through with another huge goal for the Habs on Wednesday night. Scoring on his first shift in his first career NHL Game 7, the 25-year-old winger got the visitors on the board before the first TV timeout at TD Garden, continuing his bid to prove Marc Bergevin right for stealing him away from the Canucks on Feb. 3.
“We were very comfortable playing that team. I think everybody else doubted us. I heard somebody on the TSN panel actually say they were the perfect hockey club. I don’t know what that says about us now,” cracked Weise. “As the series went on, our motivation grew. I think our team [responded] to a lot of our critics who say we’re too small or that the 'Big, Bad Bruins' were going to manhandle us. Look at our small guys like Gally [Brendan Gallagher] and Gio [Brian Gionta] and [Mike] Weaver on the back end. That guy is a human wall. We have so many little guys who just compete and are tenacious on the puck.”
Getting goals from 13 different players in the lineup through 11 games this postseason, the Canadiens have also proven that they’re one of the deepest teams in the NHL. With the fourth line chipping in with a pair of goals and the first line getting the game winner, Wednesday night was a prime example of the Habs counting on every player on the roster to get the job done.
“Everybody is doing what it takes to win hockey games,” explained All-Star netminder Carey Price, who followed up his shutout performance in Game 6 by stopping 29 of the 30 shots he faced in Game 7. “[From] the guys who aren’t playing but still working hard right to the starting lineup, everybody is doing whatever it takes. These guys have played very hard. They’ve sacrificed life and limb, just about, blocking shots and taking hits to make plays. Winning is hard. It’s the hardest thing to do. It comes at a price and these guys are paying it.”
Allowing just one goal in two elimination games against the Bruins, Price may not have been nominated for the Vezina Trophy like his Boston counterpart, but the Olympic gold medalist continued proving he’s the best goaltender in the world with his play in Game 7. After rallying the troops with a rare speech during the second intermission, Price went out and put his words into action in the third period, shutting the door to clinch a spot in the conference finals for the first time as the starter.
“These guys brought a lot of energy and I think in Game 6, we realized how good our hockey team is,” he shared of the convincing 4-0 win on Bell Centre ice on Monday. “We just tried to win every period as it came and we found a way. I’m ecstatic. I don’t show it a lot, but at the same time you have to realize it’s not over. We’re only halfway there.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.