BROSSARD – If the NHL regular season is a long grind, then the playoffs are a series of quick sprints.
Off since April 22, when they snuffed out the Lightning’s postseason hopes in Game Four of the first round, Habs players have been patiently waiting for the action to resume.
“It’s important to break up the routine occasionally and not have the same practice schedule every day. I want our guys to be surprised once in a while,” revealed head coach Michel Therrien. On Monday night, the coaching staff organized a special closed scrimmage at the Bell Centre, pitting the players against each other. From all accounts, it was a great move in preparing the team for the challenges which lay ahead.
“After a week of working hard in the morning and relaxing at night, having the scrimmage was a good way to get our bodies ready for the game day routine. It should help us out,” acknowledged left winger Max Pacioretty.
The team finally got an inkling of what to expect on Tuesday, when the NHL published the schedule of their round two match-up against the Bruins. Game One will be played at the Bruins’ TD Garden on Thursday night. On Saturday, both teams will reconvene for a matinee Game Two.
“We found out last night. Personally, I like it a bit better that way. There’s no time to over-think things and I find that I play my best hockey when I’m just letting things happen,” offered Pacioretty, who, like all of his teammates, went seven days without playing for a win. Fortunately, he and his teammates haven’t been sitting idle, either. “We weren’t planning to play a game on Thursday, but I think it works out better that way. We had the time to review systems and the tempo of Wednesday’s practice was good.”
“For sure we’re happy that it's finally starting,” said captain Brian Gionta. “You want to stay in a rhythm; you want to get back at it. We’ve been watching a lot of hockey this week as far as playoff games. It will be nice to play one.”
As for the Bruins, they have been in the same boat as the Habs since eliminating the Detroit Red Wings in a five-game opening series.
“Like them, we’ve been waiting for pretty much the same time. They finished their series fairly early too. Both teams are ready to get going. They'll be ready for us. They’re a good team. They’re proven winners and it will be a nice battle for us,” added Gionta.
“One thing about the group we have here is that they have an excellent attitude. They are excited to work on their game every day,” praised Therrien, who made of point of giving extra reps to his special teams on Wednesday morning. His players responded by showing great intensity, skating hard, passing crisply and rifling their shots on net harder than during the previous week’s training.
Once the series finally gets underway at TD Garden, fans will be treated to one of the best goaltender duels in any playoffs series to date, with Olympic gold medalist Carey Price facing off against Vezina finalist Tuukka Rask. With both goaltenders in the prime of their careers and coming off personal breakthroughs in the regular season, it will be hard to predict who will be the stingier keeper throughout the series. However, Price is less concerned about Rask than the challenge of shutting down Boston’s offense, one powered by five 20-goal scorers in the 2013-14 regular season.
“Tuukka is a really good goalie, obviously. He’s a finalist for the Vezina. But ultimately we’re not the ones taking shots on each other. I won’t score on him and he won’t score on me,” Price pointed out.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.