BROSSARD – After nearly a week of waiting, the collected, confident Habs are ready to begin their quest for the Cup.
They’ve done their homework, they’ve rested up and they’ve made the most of their four days of practice. Now, it’s time for the Canadiens to put it all together when they hit the ice for the first game of their playoff series against the visiting Ottawa Senators. The mood surrounding the Habs dressing room following the group’s optional morning skate was one of quiet confidence, as after working hard all season long to claim home-ice advantage, the team will get to kick off their 2012-13 playoff run in front of an electric Bell Centre crowd.
“I’m sure as we get closer I’ll get a little more nervous, but we did all the work, we prepared as best we can, so now the only thing really left to do is to go out there and play some hockey,” said Brendan Gallagher, who along with a few other rookies and players on the team will get his first taste of Montreal playoff atmosphere when the puck drops at 7:00 p.m. “People have been saying all week, ‘You need to go out there and experience the emotions and the intensity yourself,’ so that’s something I’m really looking forward to finally getting to do.”
While the wait for their first postseason tilt may have felt like forever, the Habs made the most of the time available to them to learn everything possible about what makes the Ottawa Senators tick.
“It’s just about going through every little tendency they have; all their players, all their systems, and preparing for every little detail we can think of. I’m sure they’re doing the same for us,” continued the 20-year-old, whose hard-nosed style of play that saw him rack up 15 goals and 13 assists in 44 games should carry over nicely into the NHL’s second season. "It’ll make for some good hockey. There shouldn’t be too many mistakes made, we’re both going to know what the other team is going to do. It should be a fun game to play in.”
One thing the Canadiens clearly gleaned from spending their week studying the Sens is that they’ll be going up against a team that leaves little room for error. With a goals-allowed-per-game average of 2.08, good for second-best in the league during the regular season, the Habs will be looking to capitalize on their chances while maintaining a focus on solid play in their own end.
“We’re going up against an extremely hard-working team. They play four lines and they do it well. Everyone over there bought into that system. Looking at the number of goals they’ve allowed and their efficiency on the penalty kill, it’s going to be hard to find a lot of holes in their game,” said veteran defenseman Josh Gorges, the NHL’s seventh-best shot blocker in 2012-13. “We can’t go out there and make little mistakes because those are going to cost us. Our goal is to play intelligent hockey, protect the puck, spend a lot of time in their zone, and do all the other little things that we always talk about – but that will all be 10 times more important against a team like this.”
Across the room, forward Lars Eller gave his take on how he dealt with the wait between games, after the Canadiens played their last match on Saturday in Toronto.
“I haven’t watched too much hockey over the course of the last few days. I’ve tried to concentrate on other things. It’s when you show up to the arena that it’s time to flip that ‘ON’ switch. I feel that right now, we’re exactly where we want to be,” shared the Dane, who along with the rest of the Habs, caught fire to finish the season, posting two goals and four assists for six points in his last three games.
“I don’t think our stress level is too high right now. It’s all about finding that perfect place right in the middle of being too excited and too calm. You don’t want to go out on the ice and make stupid mistakes or try to do too much because you’re nervous,” he concluded. “We’ve been waiting for this all week long. Everyone’s excited and everyone’s ready. There’s going to be a lot of energy in that building tonight.”
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com
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