BROSSARD – In today’s playoff notebook, Dale Weise talks confidence, Sergei Gonchar reflects on his time with the Sens, and a pair of young defensemen open up about playoff hockey.
A question of confidence: There’s no denying just how good the Ottawa Senators played during the final two months of the regular season. Dave Cameron’s contingent was an astounding 14 points out of a playoff spot back on February 10, but rattled off a 23-4-4 record in its final 31 games to become the first team in League history to be that far out of playoff contention at any point during the year and still clinch a postseason berth. Given their recent success, it’s safe to say the Senators enter the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals riding an incredible wave of momentum. That makes winning Wednesday night’s series-opener at the Bell Centre even more important for the Canadiens.
“I’m sure they’re feeling pretty confident in themselves. When you go on a run like that as a team, you almost feel invincible. They’re very confident in their game and confident in their goaltender. Their top guys are scoring goals for them, so they’re feeling good about themselves,” offered Dale Weise, who registered three goals, seven points and a plus-5 differential in 16 playoff games last season. “[That’s why] Game 1 is huge for us. We’ve got to come out and set the tone right away. We want to play our game. Obviously, it’s hard to ignore what they’ve done, but we’re very good at home. We like the way we play at home. We’re a very confident group over here, too.”
As well they should be. Michel Therrien’s troops amassed a 26-9-6 record on home ice during the regular season en route to winning the Atlantic Division title with a 50-22-10 record and 110 points, 58 of which came in Montreal. The job now, in addition to stymying the likes of Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson, will be finding a way to bring goaltender Andrew Hammond back down to planet earth. Interestingly enough, Hammond has yet to drop a road start in regulation time, going 10-0-2 in 12 starts away from the friendly confines of the Canadian Tire Centre.
“I think [the fact that he has no playoff experience] plays into his favor a little bit. I don’t think he’s reading into the pressure at all right now. He’s just playing. It’s his first experience in the NHL. I’m sure he’s going to enjoy his time on Wednesday night. It’s a great atmosphere. I think it’s probably the best in the League, so I just think the lack of experience sometimes is overlooked,” offered Weise, referencing Hammond’s first foray into postseason hockey at the NHL level. “He’s so excited. Everything’s new for him. The adrenaline’s going. I don’t think pressure is going to be a factor.”
An inside look: When the Canadiens and the Senators last hooked up in the NHL playoffs back in 2012-13, veteran rearguard Sergei Gonchar wasn’t donning the same jersey he is now. Back then, Gonchar was patrolling the blue line for Ottawa, helping to pace the Senators to a 4-1 series win in Round 1.
“It’s a little different being on the other side, but at the same time, I left a great organization a couple of years ago,” mentioned Gonchar, who spent three seasons with Ottawa, registering 91 of his 811 career points while plying his trade in the nation’s capital. “It’s probably going to be something that will be on my mind during the first game, but at the same time, we’re professionals and we have to focus on what we do. When the puck is dropped, we have to be ready for the game.”
So, what does the 41-year-old blue liner think about this edition of the Senators and their seemingly miraculous run to the NHL’s second season?
“I see a big difference in them from a couple of years ago. It seems that they’ve done a great job bringing up young players from the farm team and they’ve played well lately. Everybody is gelling. They’re playing well, they’re skating well, and their goalie is hot,” praised Gonchar, who missed the Canadiens’ last three regular season games as a healthy scratch. “We’re going to face a team that’s playing good hockey right now. It’s going to be a special series and the fans from both sides will get into it.”
Playoff newcomers: Four of Michel Therrien’s troops should make their NHL postseason debuts in 2014-15, including forwards Jacob De La Rose and Brian Flynn, and defensemen Jeff Petry and Greg Pateryn. You’ll recall that Pateryn took in last season’s extended playoff run as a member of the “Black Aces”, watching the Canadiens’ drive to the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers from afar.
This time around, however, Pateryn will likely be in the thick of the action. The 24-year-old already senses a noticeable change in the atmosphere at practice.
“The level of intensity is so much higher. You can sense it right away. At practice, everyone has picked up another gear for the playoffs. Just watching all the games at the Bell Centre last year, you see the intensity and how fast guys are moving,” offered Pateryn, who has played 17 games with the Canadiens in 2014-15, chipping in with 48 hits and 18 blocked shots during that span. “Everyone has another gear in their system and you have to pull it out. If the opportunity presents itself, I need to find it.”
Nathan Beaulieu also joined the club as a member of the “Black Aces” last year, but the Strathroy, ON native eventually hit the ice in the second round of the playoffs against Boston. That experience will undoubtedly serve the 22-year-old well come Wednesday night.
“Last year was really different. I didn’t really know what to expect and I jumped in there and gained some experience. I feel much more comfortable going into the playoffs this time,” explained Beaulieu, who registered one goal and nine points in 64 games with the Canadiens during the 2014-15 campaign. “The playoffs are so demanding. You have to be on your game and be prepared every shift because every shift matters. It could change the course of the series.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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