MONTREAL – After getting some help from the supporting cast on Wednesday, the Habs brought out the big guns for Game 2 on Friday.
Opening their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against Ottawa with a 4-3 win during a Game 1 marked by clutch offensive production courtesy of newcomers Brian Flynn and Torrey Mitchell, on Friday some more familiar faces instead got the chance to do what they do best.
A game-time decision right up until the moment he was announced as part of the Habs’ starting lineup, returning goalscorer Max Pacioretty made his presence felt in a big way after being sidelined for the previous three games with an upper body injury.
“I really found my game during the second period. Our line built up some momentum and I don’t think I could have asked for anything more during my first playoff game this year,” admitted Pacioretty, who got the Habs on the board with a power play marker in the second after being eased back into the lineup with 4:55, 6:16, and 7:19 of ice time, respectively, through the opening three frames.
“It was really amazing to score that goal. I don’t think I’ve ever celebrated like that on the ice. It’s always special to score here,” admitted the 26-year-old forward, who has nevertheless had 85 previous opportunities to perfect his post-goal moves at the Bell Centre over the course of his career. “I wanted to play my first game back at home. The support I get from the crowd here is amazing. I can’t thank everyone – the fans, the coaches – enough for all the support they’ve shown me. I’ve never felt like more of a part of this city and this team.”
Eliciting a roar from the crowd from the time he was first shown on the giant screen during pre-game warmups, Pacioretty was also welcomed back on the ice by his teammates.
“It’s always fun to play with Max. It was great to have him back in the lineup. He gives the entire team confidence,” dished linemate David Desharnais, who combined his scoring talents with Pacioretty for a 31st time this season with an assist on the second-period equalizer. “He’s a big part of our team. There aren’t many players like him and we’re lucky to have him in Montreal. He turned the momentum in our favor tonight.”
That's a sentiment which was shared by the night’s eventual hero.
“He makes a difference. We definitely missed him out there during Game 1,” added Alex Galchenyuk, who scored the overtime winner just 3:40 into extra time. “He’s a physical presence, he has an incredible shot, and he’s so dangerous with the puck. It was a great feeling for our entire team to see him get a goal in his first game back.”
Now enjoying a 2-0 series lead which the team has historically converted on 91.6% of the time over 60 similar situations in the past, the Habs meanwhile aren’t taking anything for granted as the series now moves to Ottawa on Sunday.
“The position we’re in now can be difficult, especially against a team like the Senators,” continued Pacioretty on a Sens team which has gone 12-4 at home since February 14. “They’re used to playing with their backs against the wall, and have done well in that position over the second half of the season. With our 2-0 series lead, they’ll be seen as the underdogs, but we can still improve our own game.”
That’s exactly what P.K. Subban has in mind already, early into the 2015 postseason.
“Our mission is to get better with every game in the playoffs,” concluded the returning defenseman, who scored a go-ahead in the second after sitting out most of Wednesday with a game misconduct penalty. “Now it’s about us preparing to go into another building and playing our best hockey.”
Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com
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