NEW YORK -- Most of the Montreal Canadiens will be entering uncharted territory when they take the ice against the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). For the members of the Canadiens roster who have played in the Stanley Cup Final, it's important to impress on their teammates how rare this opportunity is.
Of the Montreal players who have suited up in this series, only veteran forwards Brian Gionta and Daniel Briere have played in the Final. Gionta is the only one who has hoisted the Cup; he did it as a member of the New Jersey Devils in 2003. Forwards Travis Moen and George Parros played for the Anaheim Ducks when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007, but they have not dressed in this series.
The advice and leadership from the few players who have been this far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are crucial, especially on a roster filled primarily with players who have never gotten this far.
"You try to show that it doesn't come around that easily and that often. When you get to this point, you've got to take advantage of it and really cherish it. I think the majority of the guys understand that," Gionta said Wednesday. "But until you live it, until you go through it and you have a long drought where you don't get back to that point, you don't really understand."
Gionta is one of six players remaining from the Montreal team that advanced to the 2010 Eastern Conference Final. That group also includes forwards Moen and Tomas Plekanec, defensemen P.K. Subban and Josh Gorges and goaltender Carey Price. The 2010 team was eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in five games.
Briere was a member of the Flyers team that advanced to the 2010 Final before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. This is the closest he has come to the Final since then, and he's cherishing the opportunity.
"You never know how many chances you're going to get over the course of your career," Briere said. "When you're still alive this deep into the season, it's a privilege. You want to make sure you leave it all on the ice. You don't take any chances. That's the way we see it and that's the way we're hopefully going to play tomorrow."
Briere speaks from experience. Before reaching the 2010 Final with Philadelphia, he competed in three straight Eastern Conference Finals from 2006-08 as a member of the Flyers and the Buffalo Sabres. He lost all three, including a seven-game loss with Buffalo in 2006 to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes.
As he plays alongside so many players who haven't skated this deep into the postseason, he hasn't passed on the opportunity to share how crucial Game 6 will be.
"When you have a chance here and there you try to reinforce it. I think the guys are pretty aware," Briere said. "When you're 19 or 20 years old you think it's going to happen every year. But it's not really the case. Hopefully everybody understands that."
In Game 6 against the Rangers, the Canadiens will benefit from the addition of the only other forward on their roster who has gone this deep into the playoffs. Brandon Prust will return from serving a two-game suspension for an illegal hit on Derek Stepan in Game 3. Prust was a member of the Rangers' team that lost to New Jersey in the 2012 Eastern Conference Final on Adam Henrique's Game 6 overtime goal, which propelled the Devils into the Final.
Montreal expects Prust's big-game experience to come in handy.
"The roles he plays, penalty killing and bringing energy to the lineup, he's obviously a big key for us," Gionta said.