BROSSARD - Leadership has long-defined what Michel Therrien values most about the group he’s helmed all season long. On Friday morning, the veteran bench boss stepped up to the plate himself in defense of a fallen soldier.
“Yesterday, I didn’t have the right to talk about the [Lars Eller] incident and I won’t do that again today. But, one thing is certain: I’ve got the right to respond to [Senators head coach Paul] MacLean’s disrespectful comments,” said Therrien, referencing MacLean’s insistence that Senators defenseman Eric Gryba was not to blame for the injuries Eller suffered in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Thursday night.
“No compassion for the young man on the ice and his family,” added Therrien. “When you say that it’s a hockey hit, the examples he’s giving are from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s – and, that’s exactly what we’re trying to eliminate from our sport. There are rules in place to remove those types of hits when a player is in a vulnerable position. That’s a total lack of respect and the comments he made are unacceptable.”
That sentiment echoed throughout the Canadiens’ dressing room at the Bell Sports Complex in the hours leading up to Friday night’s Game 2 of the best-of-seven series. Grizzled veteran Brandon Prust, among others, didn’t mince words when it came to evaluating the severity of the on-ice incident that resulted in Eller suffering a concussion and facial fractures after hitting the ice face-first following impact.
“It’s a dirty hit,” affirmed Prust, who led the Canadiens with 110 penalty minutes during the regular season. “I’ve watched it over and over. It’s a dirty hit. He has a choice to hit him on his front shoulder, but he chooses to go for his far shoulder. If you’re going to go across the body like that because you don’t want that full contact, you’re going to hit him right in the face. Look at all the blood all over the ice. He’s got a broken face. It’s a dirty hit.”
While Eller is sidelined indefinitely after being released from hospital on Friday morning, the Canadiens also enter into the second of back-to-back tilts without a pair of key offensive weapons in captain Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty. Both are sidelined with upper-body injuries sustained in Thursday night’s 4-2 defeat on home ice.
For a Habs squad that managed to stay relatively healthy over the course of the regular season – ranking 14th
in the league with 126 man-games lost – the absence of three important scoring threats presents another obstacle in their quest for the Cup.
“Like I often tell my players throughout the season and in the playoffs, you’re going to be battling adversity. Adversity equals a challenge. And, when you’re up against a challenge, you need a good attitude to overcome that challenge,” explained Therrien, who will reveal his lineup for Game 2 closer to puck drop.
“We need to have the right attitude to rebound,” continued Therrien. “We have to play the same game we played yesterday, with the same intentions and the same intensity. You can’t forget: this is a back-to-back situation. It’s three games in four nights. Four games in six nights. So, if we continue to play the same way, we believe that we’ll be successful.”
Like his coach, Prust was emphatic that the attention of the entire team must be squarely placed on besting the Senators on the scoreboard and avoiding a 2-0 series deficit before heading to Ottawa for Games 3 and 4.
“We’ve got to focus on winning a series and winning some hockey games, so that’s our main focus,” noted Prust, eager for the opportunity to get back to work so quickly after Thursday night’s loss. “You want to try and keep your emotions in check when you’re out there on the ice. You don’t want to be taking any penalties and put your team behind. So, stay focused on winning hockey games and doing the things that allowed us to do that this year.”
One of which, in addition to leadership, has been the Habs’ unwavering ability to stick together over the course of the lockout-shortened campaign. That togetherness was on full display after the Canadiens held an internal team meeting leading up to Game 2.
“[The club’s stance behind Eller] shows you how unified this group is, and what kind of chemistry exists amongst them,” noted Therrien. “That’s what it demonstrates. For sure the players are frustrated to see one of their teammates like Lars Eller lying out there on the ice in that position. [That kind of reaction] shows the unity of our team.”
Down a few troops and facing a tough opponent, playing for each other is exactly what the Canadiens intend to do on Friday night to even up the series at one.Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
Words from the room
Rapid Fire - May 3