RALEIGH – More than a few players on the Canadiens roster are stepping up to show what they can do in the time they have left.
With the playoffs well out of the picture, players’ motivations have shifted over the past weeks towards making a lasting impression on the people who matter. From Blake Geoffrion to Frederic St-Denis to Peter Budaj, Thursday night’s hard-fought tilt against the Hurricanes was just another chance to shine a spotlight on what they can bring to the team next season.
“I was out of the lineup there for a little while, so it was good to get back in there; get that goal early on and get the momentum on our side,” said Geoffrion of his highlight reel second period wrap-around goal that opened up the night’s scoring. “Sitting those games was a bit of a wake up call for me, I think. I needed to keep working harder and getting those chances.
“All of us want to go into next year getting that confidence back,” he added, still clearly focused on carving out a distinctive role for himself within the team. “Playing for the future is really the message in the room right now, and playing for pride.”
One rookie well on his way to proving that the NHL is exactly where he belongs is defenseman, Frederic St-Denis. After taking a few games to find his comfort zone in the Canadiens lineup, St-Denis’ confidence and impact on the ice have visibly multiplied – a fact never more apparent than in Thursday’s tilt in Raleigh.
“I’m really happy with my performance tonight. I think this was a good game for me. Obviously not being able to finish the night by getting the win is frustrating, but personally, I’m satisfied with the job I did. I repeat this a lot – but the more I play, the better I feel out there,” expressed St-Denis after turning in another solid performance that saw him log 19:04 of ice time, with 4:45 of it coming shorthanded.
“I feel like the coaches have confidence in me, and I think I played effectively with Josh [Gorges] on the penalty kill,” added St-Denis whose team-high three blocked shots would suggest he’s picking up a thing or two from league-leading shot blocker, Gorges. “I watched a lot how he works when he’s killing penalties and learned how he reacts to things.”
Stepping between the pipes for the last three games of the season as Carey Price recovers from a mild concussion, Peter Budaj represented the Habs well Thursday night in a tightly contested goaltending duel that needed a shootout to decide the winner.
“I felt good today and I was seeing the puck pretty well. The guys did a tremendous job blocking shots in front of me. Campoli’s, I think, especially stood out because it was in the third period – he made a great kick save on that,” praised the always humble Budaj of his team’s work in the defensive zone. For his part, the Slovakian netminder turned aside 28 of the 29 shots he faced over 65 minutes of action, including more than one Carolina breakaway. “It was a great effort by our team. We really stuck with it and got some great chances on the power play at the end and in overtime.
“We have to get ready to give 100% in our last game now. There’s nothing else to save it for,” added Budaj who will get the chance to help the Habs finish out the season on a high note Saturday night against the rival Malple Leafs. “They’re out of the playoffs, we’re out of the playoffs, but there’s still a lot of pride to play for – it will be a good battle.”
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.
The Numbers Game - April 5, 2012