BROSSARD – Few pundits will be giving the Canadiens much of a shot at toppling the President’s Trophy winning Capitals in the first round, but no one knows better than Hal Gill that they don’t hand out Stanley Cups based on seeding.
Coming off a picture-perfect finish to 2008-09 with the Penguins last year, Gill remembers exactly how sweet champagne tastes as it comes flowing from the Cup. But it’s more of a bitter aftertaste that’s fueling the king-sized blue-liner heading into the postseason this time around.
After storming through the 2001-02 regular season with the Boston Bruins, Gill and Co. had a date with the eighth-seeded Canadiens when the playoffs rolled around that spring. Six games later, they were cleaning out their lockers and heading home for a summer full of reflection.
“You think it’s going to be easy and it never is,” warned Gill. “Even if you win three games, you think it’s going to be no problem to get that fourth one. Then it’s Game 5 and 6 and it still doesn’t happen and the longer it takes, the more you start questioning yourself and tightening up. Those things happen and that’s why it’s so important to build momentum early.”
Looking to be on the right side of the David vs. Goliath playoff story this time around, Gill may have lost in that first-round match-up in ’02, but he didn’t lose the lesson.
“It’s all about momentum swings. When you’re the No. 1 seed, you’re supposed to go in and just motor over someone and it doesn’t happen that way,” explained Gill, who has 80 career playoff games under his belt to date. “A lot of times when you’re the top seed, you cruise in and you get guys rested and some guys are more worried about getting points.”
Despite facing a Washington team stocked with some of the top snipers in the NHL and a league-leading 112 points in the regular season, Gill is relishing his team’s underdog label heading into Thursday’s series opener.
“When you’re coming in as the No. 8, you’re struggling and fighting and every game is just another battle,” he added. “Every shift is the biggest shift until the one after that and the fun part of playoff hockey is that anything can happen.
“It’s a race to four wins; it doesn’t matter what you’ve done before.”Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com
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