PITTSBURGH – After checking one major item off their To Do list this week, the Habs will get ready to start chipping away at task No. 2 in Pittsburgh this Friday.
While few pundits predicted that the Canadiens would be able to beat the No. 1 seeded Capitals in the opening round, even fewer are likely betting the farm on seeing Montreal advance past Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins this time around. The underdog label didn’t seem to bother the Habs in round one, and it doesn’t look like it’s throwing them off now either.
“We’re playing one of the best team’s in the NHL, the defending Stanley Cup champions,” explained Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin. “They’re at their best right now and they have a lot of stars in their lineup. It’s a huge challenge for us and we’re going to be ready.”
Part of that preparation process may involve some careful grilling of one Penguins alumnus in particular. After hoisting the Stanley Cup alongside Crosby and Co. last year, Hal Gill is looking forward to keeping the Pens’ Cup championship streak at one.
“I got a lot of texts after our win. People here were pretty pumped to see Ovechkin lose – but the messages all had the same message: let’s talk in two weeks,” joked Gill. “It’s a tough team and we have to be sharp. You’re proving yourself every night and you always need new guys to step up.
“When I was with Pittsburgh, Max Talbot had big games and it’s always someone new that steps up,” explained Gill, who was second only to netminder Jaroslav Halak in the number of shots he blocked in the first round. “That’s what we’re developing now as a team. They’ve gone through it where they know what guys are going to bring to the table and we’re finding that out now. You don’t get far in the playoffs without a whole team.”
With only one day off between ousting the President’s Trophy winners, the Canadiens won’t get to enjoy much of a breather before opening the series against the reigning Cup champs. According to Game 7 hero Dominic Moore – another former Penguin now donning the bleu-blanc-rouge
– that might not be such a bad thing.
“We knew Washington was going to be as tough as can be and we know that this is a huge uphill battle for us, but at the same time, we’re the type of team that looks forward to that,” explained Moore, who scored the series-clinching goal against the Caps late in the third period. “We know it’s a challenge and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
While the Ovechkin vs. Crosby debate may still be going strong on message boards everywhere, the Habs aren’t about to start comparing flashy, offensive apples to responsible, gold medalist oranges just yet. But they have managed to find one key variable that sets the two apart.
“If you look at this series compared to the last one against Washington, I think experience is the major difference,” described Josh Gorges
. “The Penguins know how to win and they’ve proven that in the playoffs. They know what it takes to win.
“The good thing is that we have players who have gone through this as well and a couple of guys who have won Stanley Cups,” continued the Habs blue-liner. “I think their experience really helped us pull through in the last series and hopefully they’ll keep leading the way here against Pittsburgh. We’re feeling good about the way we’re playing, but we have to make sure that we’re nothing short of our best because anything less than that isn’t going to be good enough.”
While the eighth-seeded Habs know exactly how they stack up on paper against Pittsburgh, Pens defenseman Kris Letang said on Wednesday that after watching the Canadiens knock off the No. 1 seed, it’s the Penguins
who now get to play the underdog card in Round 2.
“That’s a very intelligent comment by him, but I would say that they’re still the favorites,” described Michael Cammalleri, who led the Habs with 10 points in seven games. “If you polled the people in this room, other than the guys on the team, most of you would pick Pittsburgh to win and they’re the defending Stanley Cup champs so they’ve earned that respect.
“But we’ve seen it once and we’ll see it again now: it’s two teams, one puck and we’ll see what happens next.” Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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