BROSSARD – Escaping a playoff series unscathed is a tall order for any team this time of year, and the Canadiens know that better than most clubs right now. Fortunately for Michel Therrien’s squad, they also boast the depth needed to respond to the adversity that’s plagued them through the first two games of the playoffs.
While Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty remain questionable for Game 3 on Sunday night in Ottawa with upper-body injuries, the Habs are none too worried about what lies ahead based on the way their revamped lineup came together in Friday night’s series-tying victory in Montreal.
“[Injuries are] part of the sport we play. It sucks when guys go down and they’re out, but at the same time, it’s an opportunity for other guys to come in and step up,” noted Josh Gorges, referencing the immediate impact that the insertion of Colby Armstrong and Jeff Halpern into the lineup had on the outcome of Game 2.
“I think that’s what playoffs is all about,” added Gorges. “It’s about guys getting opportunities to shine and be put in situations where they can succeed, and they grasp the opportunity.”
Having not participated in the playoffs since his days in Pittsburgh six years ago, Armstrong relished the chance to suit up in the NHL’s second season. Showcasing his physicality against the Senators with six hits in 16:14 of ice time, the Saskatoon, SK native upped the level of his game for the occasion.
“It feels great. The atmosphere and the fact that I was playing my first playoff game here, it’s an incredible feeling,” explained Armstrong, who was a part of a Penguins team that dropped an opening-round series 4-1 to the Senators in 2006-07. “Every time you try to talk on the ice, you have trouble hearing yourself. It’s a lot different than the regular season. It’s been a long time since I’ve played in the playoffs and to do it in Montreal is great.”
Like Armstrong, Halpern too made the most of his first playoff appearance with the Canadiens since the 2010-11 campaign, winning 58 percent of his draws, registering five shots and being a difference-maker on the penalty kill in the victory.
While Armstrong and Halpern have tasted playoff hockey in the past, Gorges cited their instant impact as being even more impressive given how tough it is to wait your turn on the sidelines during the post-season.
“That’s the challenge of guys that weren’t in the lineup heading in - to stay patient, stay positive, understand that they have to be ready, because at any moment a guy could go down and we’re going to need someone to step up,” explained Gorges. “So, as hard as it is to be out, we’ve got to make sure that we let them know that they’re still a part of this and we’re going to need them at some point. I think our coaching staff does a great job of making sure everyone’s involved and prepared.”
The pair also earned praise from Therrien, who complimented their diligence and relentlessness in the Habs’ time of need.
“They worked hard. Those are guys with some experience and it’s not easy for a coach to push guys to the side who aren’t going to play, and they needed to react the right way,” said Therrien. “You know down the road there are going to be opportunities and they had to make sure that they had the right attitude, and that’s exactly what they did. They contributed really well to the success of the team [on Friday night].”
The Habs are hoping to find that success again at Scotiabank Place, and will look for the same team effort that propelled them to victory in Game 2.
“In the playoffs, you don’t want to look too far ahead or too far back,” mentioned Therrien. “What’s important for us in the post-season is the present. It’s one game at a time, and preparation for [Sunday’s] game. No further than that.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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