BROSSARD - The Canadiens held an optional skate at the Bell Sports Complex on Wednesday morning in preparation for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers.
- Following the on-ice session, head coach Claude Julien confirmed that captain Max Pacioretty would play in the series-opener after taking an accidental high-stick to the face from young gun Michael McCarron at practice on Tuesday.
- Meanwhile, the Canadiens will welcome defenseman Jordie Benn back to the lineup after he missed the final six games of the regular season with an upper-body injury.
"It's Game 1 of the playoffs. Everybody's ready to go. This is what we play all season for. It's a long road, but it starts now," said Benn, who collected three assists in seven career playoff games with Dallas. "I've been skating hard. I pre-game skate with the fellas when it's game day, and in practices we've been skating hard. We've been doing a lot of battle drills, so I'm ready to go."
Video: Benn on his playoff beard
The 29-year-old Victoria, BC native is also primed to experience the one-of-a-kind playoff atmosphere that only the Bell Centre can offer this time of year.
"A lot of guys and a lot of people around here have been talking about how exciting it is. The Bell Centre is going to be crazy and the city. It's just an exciting time for us," said Benn. "It's going to be awesome, just two teams going at it in the playoffs. It's going to be a lot of fun."
As will seeing if some of his teammates will manage to grow a playoff beard that can rival his. That, of course, won't be easy.
"There's a couple of guys in here who can probably grow a pretty good beard. Some of our younger guys, it's going to be a little peach fuzz for a while," cracked Benn. "Obviously, I've cheated all year, but this is a lifestyle, not just something I'm going to do randomly. We'll see what kinds of beards come out."
- Like Benn, winger Dwight King will also be making his first career playoff appearance in front of the Bell Centre faithful on Wednesday night.
No stranger to playoff success, having won Stanley Cup titles with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014, respectively, the 27-year-old Meadow Lake, SK native brings valuable postseason experience along with him to the Canadiens' locker room.
Previous experience, however, can only go so far, according to King.
"It helps maybe today going into the first game, but when you start the playoffs it's kind of a new season for everybody. It's a new team and a new group of guys," explained King, who boasts 10 goals and 25 points in 69 career playoff games. "I think this group is awfully excited for the opportunity."
Video: King on his previous playoff experience
So, what will it take for the Canadiens to achieve their ultimate goal?
"You need 20 guys playing great hockey. You try and get to 16 games as fast as you can. You need guys playing on their game every night," stressed King, who will play on a line with Andrew Shaw and Artturi Lehkonen in Game 1. "Different guys step up at different moments. That's the big thing about it, a team game."
- That's something Julien has undoubtedly been emphasizing to his group in the days leading up to the start of the series, which will mark his 10th career playoff run behind an NHL bench.
"I'm not the type of guy to get nervous, but more excited. I'm excited to get started. We worked hard to get to this point, so being nervous is natural, for sure. Everyone reacts differently," said Julien, who will be making his first playoff appearance since 2013-14. "I know that as a player, I had butterflies, but as a coach, I'm more calm. I think that experience over the years helps you become that way."
Video: Claude Julien's post-practice press conference
- The Canadiens have planned an extensive pregame show on Wednesday night. In order not to miss it, the club encourages ticket holders to be in their seats by 6:50 p.m. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on CBC and TVA Sports, as well as on TSN Radio 690 and 98,5 fm.