PITTSBURGH – It has been a season defined by new faces, injuries and exceeding expectations, so another elimination game should not faze the Montreal Canadiens.
All sports teams speak of overcoming adversity, regardless of how hard some must look to manufacture it, but these Canadiens need no such cause. Montreal will play the defending Stanley Cup champions Monday night at Bell Centre (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS). The season will be on the line and the Canadiens are likely to be shorthanded.
This is nothing new to this team, so it is time for the club that keeps saying "nobody believes in us" to prove everyone wrong again.
"It is one of those years, but we've battled through it and learned a lot about ourselves," Scott Gomez said after a Game 5 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. "It is one of those years, but whoever is in the lineup, we'll go at it and the place will be rocking."
The Canadiens barely qualified for the postseason, cliching a berth in a shootout loss to Toronto in the final game of the regular season. Their reward was a series with the Presidents' Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals, the highest-scoring NHL team in more than a decade and a club that finished the season with 33 more points in the standings.
Not only did the Canadiens upset the Capitals, they became the first No. 8 seed to rally from a 3-1 series deficit to do it. Three times they faced elimination against Washington, and three times Jaroslav Halak and the Canadiens would not be defeated.
"Obviously everybody still believes," Halak said. "It is still 3-2 and we are still in there. We've been in this situation before. We're just going to go back home, relax tomorrow and get ready for Monday because it is going to be a huge game."
Added coach Jacques Martin: "We're just going to have to regroup and make sure we have 20 guys who are ready to compete."
Which 20 players will compete for the Canadiens against the Penguins remains to be determined. The already beleaguered blue line corps experienced another casualty Saturday night at Mellon Arena when Hal Gill missed the final 17 minutes of the contest.
Gill also missed the team's chartered flight home after the game because he was still receiving treatment on his leg, which was cut when Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz stepped on it behind the net early in the third period.
"It was a fluke thing," Gill said while waiting for a commercial flight back to Montreal Sunday at Pittsburgh International Airport. "I don't know yet [about playing Monday]. I haven't really tested it yet, but I hope so."
Three other injured Montreal defensemen are also trying to return for Game 6. Jaroslav Spacek has been skating for several days, but Martin has continued to say he's not ready because of an undisclosed injury.
Andrei Markov went down in Game 1 against Pittsburgh with a knee injury that has been reported to be severe, but he skated without equipment Sunday. Even Paul Mara, who was expected to miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury, skated Sunday -- with his full gear on.
Regardless of who plays for the Canadiens, they expect to feed off the more than 21,000 red, white and blue-clad patrons that are expected to pack a boisterous Bell Centre.
"We still got plenty of guys here. I think we need to battle through and some guys will have to step up," Halak said.
Added Gomez: "It is a must win now, but we get to go home. I'm sure the emotion and everything with being home is going to be there."