BROSSARD – After a western-swing complete with its share of highs and lows, Jacques Martin and the Montreal Canadiens are back home to face the Maple Leafs Thursday night at the Bell Centre.
While Toronto may have spent the majority of the 2010-11 season as an afterthought in the Canadiens’ rearview mirror, the Leafs have come on strong in the month of February, dropping only two contests – one a 3-0 shutout to the Habs – in regulation time.
“When you look around the league right now you can really tell that teams have already gone into playoff-mode. There are a lot of tight games happening that are being played with a lot of physical intensity and we have to be ready to deliver that right from the first minute of the game,” explained P.K. Subban
who logged a team-high 26:17 of ice-time in the Habs win over the Canucks.
“When teams have it in their head that they’ve got nothing left to lose, that’s when they become really dangerous and try to make life hard on other teams. Kirk Muller said at the end of practice that us young guys need to bring as much energy as possible to the game and the team tonight, especially after a long road-trip.”
Although it might be tempting for the Canadiens to relax during their brief return home between week-long trips, don’t expect the Habs to take their foot off the gas, knowing full well what’s at stake in Thursday night’s matchup.
“We’re going to need the same energy tonight that we had in Vancouver. There can sometimes be a lull when you’re coming back from a long road trip like this, but we have to make sure that doesn’t happen to us in this situation,” pointed out captain, Brian Gionta
. “Toronto’s obviously a proud team and we fully expect them to come back and play us even harder tonight after we shut them out here in the last game.”
With Canadiens’ defensive pillar Hal Gill healthy and back to eating up long minutes of ice-time, any extra help on the blue-line will represent a welcome addition for him and the rest of the Habs’ squad.
“It’s always tough coming back from a road-trip like that. You’re a little bit jet-lagged, you’re excited to be home and get the chance to relax a little, but the two points at stake right now are just way too big for us to sit back at all,” noted Gill who should get some help from the return of Paul Mara to the Canadiens’ lineup. “We know him already and we know what he can do. He’s a player who I think will be really useful to the team at this point in the season. He’s going to be a great presence in front of the net and we’re all happy to have him back.
Mara, who will be playing his first game back at the Bell Centre against the Leafs, also couldn’t be happier be playing a second round with the club.
“I think it’s great to be back in Montreal, and in a lot of ways it almost feels like I never left. The players are the same, the coaching staff is the same, so not a lot’s really changed,” said Mara. “This is a very tight room, and that’s the sort of thing that can really carry a team through those tight games when you’re in the playoffs.”Justin Fragapane is a writer for Canadiens.com.ALSO READ:Gameday comments: Gill
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