BROSSARD – A day after Senators head coach Paul MacLean did his best to place the ‘favorite’ label – and the pressure that comes with it – squarely on the Canadiens, veteran bench-boss Michel Therrien elected to take an alternate approach ahead of the series-opener and apply the pressure elsewhere.
“At this time of the season, you shouldn’t be nervous…if you’ve done your homework,” affirmed Therrien, noting the Habs not only finished the season on a high note, but had three good days of practice over the course of the past week. “When you’re a student and you study from Monday to Friday, you look forward to Friday to take your exam. If you didn’t study and you cheated yourself all week, you don’t feel like doing it. I’ll tell you one thing, our players have done their homework.”
Looking to ease playoff newcomers with different levels of NHL experience into post-season mode, Therrien has spent additional one-on-one time with Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, Jarred Tinordi, Raphael Diaz and Max Pacioretty in recent weeks, gauging their comfort levels and repeating a similar message.
“I spoke to them. I believe that it’s important to know how they’re feeling. For me, there’s no pressure for the players who are playing in the playoffs for the first time. I told them – ‘Don’t feel any pressure. Apply it. Impose pressure on your opponent,’” indicated Therrien. “This is how we want to handle pressure. The young players have done excellent work throughout the season. What I like is that they’ve steadily improved. Sometimes, you’ll see young players have a good start and then slow down. In our case, there was progression.”
The next step in that progression, however, will come Thursday night with the start of the Habs-Senators Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series at the Bell Centre. While rookies Gallagher, Galchenyuk and Tinordi certainly have done everything possible to prepare for their playoff debuts, captain Brian Gionta is quick to point out that there’s no substitute for contesting a tilt in a post-season environment and putting lessons learned into practice.
“You have to go out on the ice and perform. To think that because we’ve got a few guys that have been in the playoffs before and succeeded will give us an automatic win isn't true,” noted Gionta, who earned a Stanley Cup title with the Devils back in 2002-03. “You shouldn’t think that because we’re in the playoffs, the young players just started asking a bunch of questions. They’ve been doing that all year. I’ve always said it - You can ask as many questions as you want, you can give as many answers as you want, but until you’ve had the experience, you can’t really understand everything that’s involved.”
Still, the presence of Gionta and others who’ve had extended playoff runs over the course of their careers will, according to Therrien, play a key role in acclimating those players who will be getting their feet wet in the NHL’s second season this year.
“You can’t buy experience. I’ve always believed that leadership comes from inside the dressing and that players share their experiences with the newcomers,” said Therrien,whose roster boasts 662 combined games of post-season experience. “We’ve got good veterans at the heart of our team, guys who’ve won. We’ve also got good young veterans that have had big games and have reacted well. That kind of experience, at this time of year, I see it as a big advantage for our players.”
As does veteran Travis Moen, himself having etched his name on the Stanley Cup as a member of the Anaheim Ducks in 2006-07.
“I think it’s huge, having veteran guys that can kind of lead the way for the young guys,” confirmed Moen. “I think it’s just about talking to them. I think the first game, they’ll have a bit of jitters, but it’s great to see young guys in the lineup. They bring that enthusiasm and that young, youthful energy. It’s going to be fun watching them out there. Obviously, a lot of us remember what it was like to play our first playoff game.”
It’s safe to say that those Habs making their first NHL playoff appearances will be looking to make memories of their own come Thursday night, and win game one in the process.
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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