BROSSARD - There's something very special about suiting up come playoff time, and a quartet of Habs will find that out first-hand on Wednesday night.
Paul Byron, Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Andreas Martinsen will all be making their NHL playoff debuts when the Canadiens open their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers at the Bell Centre, marking an important step in their respective careers.
After compiling a remarkable regular-season campaign with a personal-best 22 goals, 21 assists and 43 points in 81 games, Byron is out to keep things rolling offensively and be a difference-maker in his first taste of postseason play.
"I've been playing hockey all my life for this. I want to win the Stanley Cup. I want to be an important player for the team in the playoffs and I'm working hard every day for that," said Byron, who ranked second on the roster in goals, fourth in points, and led the way with a plus-21 differential. "I have a lot of confidence in myself. I know that I play a hard game. I'm not shy in the corners and I'm not scared of bigger players. I take hits and I try to play every single game like they're playoff games."
Video: Byron on his first NHL playoff experience
It certainly doesn't hurt the 27-year-old Ottawa native's cause to still be playing with somewhat of a chip on his shoulder. After all, there's always been talk about his size and whether or not he could be a real force at hockey's highest level. He certainly demonstrated that he could be a go-to guy throughout the 2016-17 campaign, and he's eager to prove his detractors wrong again at the most important time of the year.
"Everyone sees me as a smaller player who isn't made to play in the playoffs, but I'm a player who plays a strong game and I'm at my best when things count the most. I'm so excited to be playing in the playoffs to show that I'm a player who can help the team," said Byron, who consulted with captain Max Pacioretty and goaltender Carey Price on what to expect come Game 1. "I'm going to try to play with the same speed and tenacity that I have every game."
Phillip Danault is also hoping to come up clutch in his first foray into the NHL's second season after serving as a Black Ace during the Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run in 2014-15.
Like Byron, the 24-year-old Victoriaville native played a huge part in the Canadiens managing to claim top spot in the Atlantic Division and return to the playoffs following a one-year absence. After posting career-highs in all three major offensive categories, and being rewarded with the Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy, the former 26th overall selection back in 2011 is ready to put everything he internalized while in the Windy City into practice for the CH.
"I had the chance to experience [the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run] right until the very end and it was very exciting. It's a whole other level. I was a part of the team back then, and I told myself that I wanted to be a part of the winning formula if I had a chance to play in the playoffs myself. That's the case this year. I think my experience there will help me here," said Danault, who registered 13 goals, 27 assists and 40 points in 82 games. "As a player, your ultimate goal is to be in the playoffs and go as far as possible. We're there and I'm very happy to be here. It will be a memorable moment for me."
Video: Danault on his excitement leading up to Game 1
Lehkonen, meanwhile, enters his freshman NHL playoff experience on a serious hot streak with four goals and six points in his last four games. Unlike Danault, though, who obviously has a good idea of what's to come, the 21-year-old Finnish forward is in brand new territory after wrapping up his rookie season in North America.
"I don't really know what to expect. It's the time of year where teams give everything they've got. That's where you see what you really have as a team. It will be fun. That's for sure," said Lehkonen, who was a key figure in helping Frolunda claim the Swedish Hockey League title last season, posting 19 points in 16 postseason outings to surpass Daniel Alfredsson's franchise mark for the most points in a single playoff run. "I've seen the way the fans are in Montreal. They know the game and I can imagine it'll be a great atmosphere. It will give us an extra boost."
Video: Lehkonen on facing the Rangers
If Martinsen throws his weight around and dishes out a big hit or two in the series-opener, head coach Claude Julien's contingent will undoubtedly get another all-important boost, too.
"I have to play my game every night and just use my size and be hard to play against, especially now in the playoffs. It's even more important when you play each other every other day. I'm just going to go out there and play my game," said the 26-year-old Norwegian winger. "The team that wants to win the most is going to win. It's not that much about skill and all that stuff anymore. It's more about the heart and the will."