MONTREAL - Now only two victories from the Calder Cup final, the Hamilton Bulldogs continue to see new playoff heroes emerge on a nightly basis. Just ask the Chicago Wolves, who had their hearts broken by Dan Jancevski to open the AHL's Western Conference final.
It was Jancevski's blast from the point in double overtime of Game 1 against the Wolves that got the ball rolling for the red-hot Bulldogs. After that huge 6-5 victory, it was rarely-dressed Michael Lambert's turn to save the day in a 3-2 overtime win over Chicago, staking Hamilton to a 2-0 series lead.
"So far during these playoffs, a different player has stepped up to lead us to victory almost every other game it seems," said Jancevski, who has two goals and four assists in 14 games so far. "And what else can you say about Carey Price, he's just been lights out for us. It's amazing how calm and poised he's been from the start. He's let us hang in a lot of games, allowing us the time to come up with the big goal. The Canadiens' goaltending future looks bright from here."
Signed by the Canadiens as free agent last July, Jancevski is in his second stint with the Bulldogs. He also spent the entire 2004-05 season in Hamilton while the Habs were still sharing their farm team with the Dallas Stars.
"It was a pleasant surprise last summer when my agent told me the Canadiens were interested in signing me," recalled the soon-to-be 26-year-old. "Getting the chance to join an Original 6 team with such a great tradition and rich history means a lot to me. It's not something that happens every day."
For Bob Gainey and the Canadiens, Jancevski has come as advertised. The rock-steady stay-at-home defenseman put up the AHL's fourth-best plus-minus at +20 to go with 31 points in 80 games for the Bulldogs in 2006-07. Jancevski also found time to take 22-year-old rearguard Ryan O'Byrne under his wing.
"All players get a feeling of pride when they can help a young player reach their full potential and take the next step," added Jancevski, now in his sixth pro season. "Playing a role in developing our younger guys is something special, especially when you consider how close they are to fulfilling their childhood dream. That day suddenly isn't very far off for Ryan."
While comfortable in his big brother role with the Bulldogs, Jancevski has hardly closed the book on his own NHL aspirations.
"My ultimate goal hasn't changed," said Jancevski. "I still hope to earn a full-time spot in the NHL one day."
If his first year as property of the Canadiens is any indication, Jancevski has made that abundantly clear.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com