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Let the Games begin

Habs players are getting set to root for their countries as they prepare to welcome the Predators to the Bell Centre on Saturday

by Dan Braverman @CanadiensMTL /

BROSSARD - While current NHL players aren't playing in the Olympics this year, that won't stop the Habs from cheering their respective countries on or reminiscing about their past participation at the Games.

"I've been there a couple of times. It's a hell of an experience for the guys going out there," recalled Tomas Plekanec, who has represented the Czech Republic in both 2010 and 2014. "It'll be nice for them, for sure."

While Plekanec would've liked to be in South Korea for this year's edition of the competition, he admits that with the NHLers not taking part, there isn't a clear-cut frontrunner for gold.

"It's pretty much open for anybody right now," said the Kladno native, who captained his Olympic squad in 2014. "The NHL guys aren't there, so it makes the hockey tournament more interesting for fans."

Video: Tomas Plekanec on facing the Predators on Saturday

Captain Max Pacioretty took part in his first Games in Sochi in 2014 and although he would've liked to repeat the endeavor this year, he confirms he'll still be rooting for Team USA in both hockey and other events from afar.

"It's always a fun time to watch the athletes and cheer for your country," said the native of New Canaan, CT, who has one assist in five Olympic contests. "I'll be going against a lot of the Canadian guys in some of the sports. I'm looking forward to it."

An unabashed cheerleader for the Maple Leaf (of the red, and not blue, variety, of course), Brendan Gallagher might be one of those guys going against Pacioretty when they take in some of the action happening in PyeongChang.

"Anything that Canada is competing in, I take interest in. It's exciting to watch athletes you don't hear all that much about. You get to hear their stories, how hard they work," explained Gallagher, who echoed Plekanec in affirming the tournament lacked an odds-on favorite. "It's a cool time of year. Canada gets behind them and supports them, and I'm no different."

Video: Brendan Gallagher on watching the Olympics

While the Games will be underway overseas, pressing matters await the Canadiens at home, with the Central division-leading Nashville Predators making their first and only visit to the Bell Centre this season on Saturday.

"They're a great team, they're a very strong team. They're built down the middle and on the backend. Teams like that are very hard to match up against. I'm sure there will be a lot of matching tomorrow. They have some really good defensemen over there. We'll see how it plays out in terms of matching," outlined Pacioretty, who scored the overtime winner in last season's January contest in Nashville. "They're built through the middle and on the backend. I think that's a big reason why they've had a lot of success."

Video: Max Pacioretty on cheering for his country

The Habs also beat the Preds when they visited Montreal last year, spoiling PK Subban's return, but dropped this year's only tilt thus far in a shootout, back in November. Still, head coach Claude Julien is counting on his troops to deliver a solid showing against the Tennessean contingent, regardless of how far they've come the past few seasons.

"They're doing well, they made it to the Stanley Cup Final last year," he noted. "They have the pieces to go far again this year.

"We played well against them this year, and we beat them last year when they came here. We seem to play well against them, so I hope that'll be the case tomorrow."

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