PITTSBURGH – After playing the underdog card all the way past the President’s Trophy winners and into a neck-and-neck series with the defending Cup champs, don’t expect the Habs to be shuffling the deck any time soon.
Now with just two wins standing between the Canadiens and the Eastern Conference finals, doubters everywhere are turning into believers and when the puck drops on Saturday night, there will be plenty of fans pacing nervously across living rooms province-wide. Just don’t expect any nail-biting or butterflies popping up in the Habs’ dressing room ahead of the biggest game of the season to date.
“A win tonight is huge for us, just as it would be for them,” described Hal Gill, who yet again will be charged with shutting down one of the best players in the world in Game 5. “You always want to win that next game. That means forechecking hard and playing in their end. That’ll be our best defense – playing in their zone. We don’t have to be pretty; we just have to make the smart plays towards the net.”
As likely to throw himself in front of an oncoming shot as he is to crack a joke to lighten the mood inside the dressing room, Gill knows all about the balancing act required to be successful in the postseason.
“You have a lot of focus, but I think it’s important that you try to get yourself away from it a little bit too,” explained the playoff Guru, who was helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup just one year ago. “That’s why you have to have fun in practice and enjoy the moment so you’re not exactly relaxed but you’re having fun. This is the best time of year; this is what you play for. It would be a shame not to enjoy it.”
Gill’s cool-as-a-cucumber demeanor also seems to be wearing off on another king-sized blue-liner in the Habs’ room.
“I don’t think we’ve changed; we still have that same mindset where we’ve been the underdog all along and no one expected us to be here,” reminded 6-foot-5 defenseman Ryan O’Byrne. “I think we’ve been successful because of that. We’ve just played loose and haven’t gotten too tense. Even when we’ve gotten behind, we just keep going and we’ve been successful. You don’t really want to mess with what’s been working.”
According to head coach Jacques Martin, the best way to win when the chips are stacked against you is to just play the hand you’re dealt and use the cards you have to your advantage.
“Before the series with the Capitals, there were a few aspects that gave us confidence going in,” revealed Martin. “They had the league’s best power play; we had the second best. We had a better penalty kill percentage and a better goals-against average. Against the Penguins, we’re playing the defending Stanley Cup Champions with elite players like Crosby and Malkin. That gives you another level of inner motivation.”
At 5-foot-9, Habs sniper Michael Cammalleri has been underestimated his entire life. On fire with 13 points since the start of the playoffs, Cammy knows exactly who the pressure will be on heading into Saturday’s tilt.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re playing desperate hockey, but definitely intense hockey,” said Cammalleri. “I think the Penguins will be more in the mindset feeling like they have
to win, especially in front of their own fans. We’re excited and ready for that challenge.” Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.comSee also:Game preview #5: Canadiens-Penguins Leading the way Five Keys to the Game: Habs-Pens #5 Best supporting actors