BROSSARD - The Canadiens face a monumental challenge on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and they'll be able to count on a huge - if not diminutive - reinforcement as Paul Byron has been cleared to return to action.
Byron will skate on the right wing on a fourth line with Nate Thompson at center and Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the left.
For teammate Max Domi, having a versatile player like Byron back in the lineup and in the room will go a long way for the Habs.
"How fast he is, how hard he works on the penalty kill, the forecheck, you name it. He can play through your whole lineup and he can play so many different roles," shared Domi of Byron, who is one of 10 Canadiens players to reach the 30-point plateau this season. "He's ahuge part of this hockey team, and we're happy to have him back."
The Canadiens will need all the help they can get. The Lightning, after all, are the best team in the League this season and are setting records in the process.
They're their record is the best in the League for a reason. They're a good hockey team, they have a lot of firepower up front, great goaltenders and a good D corps and they're well-coached," said Domi of a Tampa Bay team that needed needed the second-fewest games to clinch the President's Trophy and are just three wins shy of setting a new mark for most in a season. "We're going to have to bring our best effort. We know what we have to do to beat them. We just have to go out and execute."
Video: Max Domi on getting Paul Byron back in the lineup
Embracing the challenge
The Habs are still on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. And though they'll likely need to win all three of their remaining games and get a bit of luck on their side to get in, the players and their coach are facing the challenge head-on and embracing it.
"It's huge. To be in a situation, to still have a chance to make the playoffs, to do it at home and and play against the best team in the League... what an opportunity," expressed Nate Thompson, who has collected six assists and won 55.3% of his draws since joining the Habs in mid-February. "If you told us something like that at the beginning of the year, to have this chance, I think we'd all jump on it."
Head coach Claude Julien has likely been a contributor to the looseness in the room over the team's fate, agreeing with his players on how exciting this final stretch of the regular season will be for them all - not that it'll be easy by any means.
"You have to love a challenge; it's as simple as that. keep saying the same thing over and over: there are teams right now who are just trying to be spoilers, or who know that in two, three games from now they're done," he explained. "We're trying to extend our season. I think that's great. It's a great opportunity, it's a great challenge and that's what you're trying to spread with the rest of your team to give yourself the best chance possible to get past this week."
Video: Claude Julien's pregame press conference vs. TBL
After arriving in Montreal late Monday night, Ryan Poehling jumped on the ice with the Habs extras at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard. After general manager Marc Bergevin ruled him out for the game against the Lightning, Julien added it was too early to say if the 20-year-old would suit up for the Canadiens' two remaining games, on Thursday night in Washington and Saturday night at the Bell Centre against the Maple Leafs.
Video: Ryan Poehling on arriving in Montreal
Puck drop for the Habs-Lightning game is set for 7:30 p.m. For tickets, click here.