MONTREAL – It was a playoff debut to remember for some of the newest Habs on the roster.
Heading into Wednesday’s game, the Canadiens knew they would have to score by committee to make up for the offense they’d be missing with injured sniper Max Pacioretty watching from the pressbox. With their leading scorer out of commission, the Habs instead got key contributions from some of the team’s trade deadline acquisitions, who spent their first playoff games in Montreal proving their new boss right.
“You can’t replace Max with one guy; you’re going to need everybody,” said Devante Smith-Pelly, who was a one-man wrecking ball for the Canadiens on Wednesday, dishing out three hits in his first three playoff shifts as a Hab, finishing tied for the team lead with six in Game 1. “It was good to see unexpected guys step up, but it’s not that unexpected because I feel like anyone on this team can step up.”
Picking a timely moment to pot his first goal since joining the Canadiens on March 2, Torrey Mitchell got the home team on the board with a quick wraparound in the second period. He also finished with a plus-2 differential and won 67% of his draws on the night, leading the team in the faceoff circle.
“Our line played really well tonight. We sort of fed off each other. Getting a goal in the playoffs for my hometown team felt pretty good,” admitted the Greenfield Park native, who combined with linemates Brian Flynn and Brandon Prust for five points on the night. “We had other guys step up. There are so many momentum switches and ups and downs during a playoff series, but you just saw that in one game there. Obviously not having Patch is going to change the dynamic of our team game, so it’s nice to have other guys step up and get the win.”
Exploding out of the gate in his first career playoff game, Flynn couldn’t have drawn up a better debut, either. Earning first star honors with a goal and two assists, the 26-year-old didn’t appear to have any performance anxiety ahead of his inaugural postseason tilt.
“To come out to those white towels going crazy during the national anthem, you get chills. When the game started, I got into the rhythm early and it paid off,” described Flynn, who scored the eventual game winner late in the second period. “It’s obviously one of the highlights, if not the highlight [of my career]. Playoff hockey is just a different animal than the regular season. I was really looking forward to tonight all day. I’m happy to get it started off on the right foot.”
More impressively than the team’s ability to beat Senators netminder Andrew Hammond four times on Wednesday night – just the third time he’s allowed four or more goals since being called up from Binghamton in January – was that they did so with both Pacioretty and P.K. Subban out of the lineup. Seeing his night end early after getting called for a slashing major on Mark Stone that also resulted in a game misconduct, Subban played a mere 9:05 in Game 1, although he still managed to pick up a pair of assists in his truncated evening.
Forced to kill off a five minute Sens powerplay, the Habs responded by scoring a shorthanded goal, courtesy of Lars Eller, taking back the lead and shifting the momentum in the process.
“We got two quick goals and then got hit with a little bit of penalty trouble. Having been through the playoffs before, I know it’s going to be up and down and a roller coaster emotionally, even shift to shift,” shared Smith-Pelly, who has five goals in 13 career postseason games. “I thought the guys did a good job of staying composed. I feel like it’s probably pretty tough to have an off game when the crowd is like that. I know everyone, especially the new guys, were excited to get out there and feed off the energy. The crowd did a great job of helping us out.”
For Mitchell and Flynn in particular, it wasn’t hard to get motivated ahead of Game 1. Arriving from Buffalo together at the trade deadline, the duo left the worst team in the East to join the eventual Atlantic division champs. The prospect of chipping in and leading the Canadiens to a big win wasn’t one they were about to pass up.
“It was a special night for our line tonight,” offered Mitchell, who grew up on Montreal’s South Shore. “If you’d told us three months ago this is where we’d be standing, I think we’d take it. I’ve been to a lot of playoff games here, but to finally get out there and have an opportunity to play was pretty unreal.”Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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