UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Scott Gomez has played alongside far too many legendary players in his career to not know how to carry himself when things aren't going well.
Some may have been just a tad melancholy going 368 days without a goal. But when you've spent your early days in the National Hockey League learning from the likes of Scott Stevens, Joe Nieuwendyk and Martin Brodeur, you know it's more important to put the team ahead of any personal struggles.
That's what Gomez has done in Montreal during the past year. That's why he's earned the admiration of his teammates -- the ones who went ballistic on the bench when Gomez fired a rebound from the right circle past Evgeni Nabokov at 9:50 of the third period in the Montreal Canadiens' 4-2 win against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Thursday night.
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"I'd have to be the biggest (expletive) to feel sorry for myself."
Twenty-four appearances into the 2011-12 season, Gomez had just seven assists -- not exactly the numbers one would expect from a player who is a $7,357,143 cap hit for another two seasons after this one. But instead of simply pocketing that enormous sum of cash, Gomez instead showed up to work every day and tried to set an example for younger players -- including 23-year-old Max Pacioretty, who had his first NHL hat trick Thursday night.
Pacioretty is one of many players in the Canadiens' dressing room who looks up to Gomez. After all, the latter is a two-time champion, winning Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils in 2000 and 2003. Pacioretty said he's been inspired by the way Gomez has conducted himself during the year-long drought.
"He's been through so much in his career," Pacioretty said. "He's had so much success. I think it's more of him staying positive on his own and making sure we're all positive. That's the type of leader he is. It was great to see him get that one tonight."
Montreal coach Randy Cunneyworth has also been impressed.
"He's just gone about his business," Cunneyworth said. "He's worked hard. He's made not a big deal of it, really. The reaction of the players is what's important. I think they were quite happy for him. It's a great deal of support that he has."
Indeed, the entire Montreal bench erupted Thursday night as if Gomez had just scored a goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It was a clear sign of how they feel about a teammate who refused to go into great detail of just how frustrating the past 12 months have been. Gomez said it got to the point where he believes Carey Price was actually letting him score in practice, just so the 32-year-old center could feel good about himself.
"I hope they had a camera on the bench, because I went nuts … I think everyone did," Pacioretty said. "It was a good goal, obviously. If he didn't score that goal, it would have been a tie game at the end. That's a huge goal and hopefully he can keep piling them in now."
Center - MTL
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 8
SOG: 44 | +/-: -4
SOG: 44 | +/-: -4
"You still put in the work," Gomez said. "I'm not going to feel sorry for myself. I've been blessed playing in the NHL. Obviously, I want to score. But we've got to win. I'm not going to shy away from that. I'm sure you guys all played sports. You're addicted to winning."
Thursday's win left the Canadiens nine points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs -- their next opponent -- for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Rather than going on and on about how great it felt to finally light the lamp, Gomez spent much of his time with the media explaining to them how the Canadiens' dressing room has adopted a 'Why not us?' mentality -- how they still think they can catch the Leafs or the seventh-place Ottawa Senators with only 27 games remaining on the schedule.
"You never know," Gomez said. "We've just got to keep winning. It's a great group of guys and a great team. Until they tell you you're not in the playoffs … it's the weird thing about sports. It's why we all love it. Crazier things have happened. We've just got put ourselves in that position where we want to make it interesting. We want the Bell Centre to rock. Why not? Why can't it be us to come back and make it into the playoffs?"
Montreal may not require Gomez to score in bunches in order to come all the way back and qualify for a postseason berth. But it will require the attitude he's portrayed over the last 368 days, 60 games, 125 shots and 1,319 shifts.
Keep your head up. Keep working hard. Always believe.
"You're here for the young guys," Gomez said. "It's just not the way I was raised. You don't feel sorry for yourself. You put the work in and feel blessed to be here. You're never above the team. I'm pretty comfortable in my skin. If it's not going in the net, I've got to help these other guys.
"But hopefully it doesn't go that long again."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL