BROSSARD – In order to give his team the best shot at upsetting the Bruins, Michel Therrien mixed things up on Monday.
Eighty-six game days have already come and gone for the Canadiens in the 2013-14 season. On the eve of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against Boston, the Habs are getting set for their 87th. However, there will be a lot fewer people watching them take to the ice on Monday night. Indeed, rather than holding a standard practice and letting his team have the rest of the day to themselves, the Habs bench boss arranged for a simulated game day: a short, focused morning skate at 10:30 a.m., a team meal, an afternoon team-building activity, and a 7 p.m. closed scrimmage at the Bell Centre which will features call-ups from the Hamilton Bulldogs but no spectators in the stands.
“We don’t yet know when our series against the Bruins will start, but we haven’t had a game in a while and we wanted to have the best preparation possible, so this is why we organized the day in this way,” offered Therrien, who is getting set to coach a second Canadiens-Bruins series after winning in six on his first attempt back in 2002. “We also thought it was important for the players’ families to experience the moment, so we added an afternoon activity which adds them to the schedule.
“It’ll be fun. It’s good to be put in a game situation, to get a feel for handing the puck at game speed. Keeping your timing sharp is a challenge when you go so many days between games, so this is an excellent idea,” opined P.K. Subban, who is looking forward to his second career postseason meeting with Boston.
Despite giving it all he had in a seven-game playoff series against the Bruins in 2011 and scoring a goal which sent the deciding game to sudden-death overtime, Subban’s side ended up being defeated by the eventual Stanley Cup champs.
“We’ll study the Bruins’ tendencies on video later on, but the main focus today is to work on ourselves in a game situation,” explained Subban. “It’ll be cool to recreate the mental stress of a game in a scrimmage like today’s.”
Subban probably won’t be lining anyone up for a big hip check or try to blast a slap shot through penalty killers on Monday night, but as captain Brian Gionta explains, the simple of act of structuring the day in a familiar manner can help players get back into their playoff rhythm.
“I don’t think it’s possible to truly simulate a playoff game and the intensity of it. But this is the next best thing because you’re playing at the right time of the day and going through your usual routine,” said Gionta. “We’ve been using the time off to work on a few things, and we’ll gradually ramp up the intensity throughout the week.”
Gionta is familiar with Boston’s history and hockey culture, having starred for Boston College prior to turning pro with the New Jersey Devils. A Hab since 2009, he too experienced the agony of defeat alongside Subban following the Game 7 loss in 2011.
“It doesn’t matter who you play, whether it’s a team out west or a team in your division. The scouting is so good that you know what to expect. You know the other team’s personnel and philosophy,” offered the 35 year-old playoff veteran. “We respect that Boston’s a good team and that they’ve done good things in the recent past. It’ll be fun to play against them.”
Contrary to his captain, Therrien didn’t use the word “fun” to describe the upcoming series.
“It’ll be like trench warfare,” mused the Habs’ bench boss. “Montreal-Boston is one of the great rivalries in sports, and we’re going to be writing a new chapter.”
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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