BROSSARD – If the best way to predict the future is to look at the past, consider Hal Gill the crystal ball of NHL defensemen.
The most recent Cup winner suiting up in the Habs’ dressing room, Gill didn’t go through four grueling rounds of playoff hockey last season with the Penguins without picking up a few lessons along the way.
“In Pittsburgh we had a tough series with Washington that went seven games. There’s always stuff you learn from a battle like that,” explained Gill. “We have a different team than I was with last year and we have different strengths and we have to use those to our advantage.”
One of those strengths comes in the form of Stanley Cup pedigree. With experience in his corner, Gill knows exactly how he ended up on the right side of that Game 7 decision against Ovi and Co. and in the Eastern Conference final the next week.
“You want the blueprint? The basic idea was just to play in their end,” laughed the Habs’ resident penalty killing guru. “They have a lot of offensive weapons and they can put up some numbers so the more you play in their end, the better. I think we have a good team to match up against them, though.
“It’s not always the firepower but sustaining pressure in their end,” added Gill. “In the playoffs it’s a struggle to get momentum and I think we can generate momentum by playing in their end and using our quick forwards and taking away their strength, which is their offense.”
He’s not kidding. Counting seven players with 20 or more goals on the season, the Caps have more than their share of sharpshooters in their arsenal. But when it comes to how to shut down 50-goal scorer Alex Ovechkin at this time of year, Gill has some hard-earned experience in that department.
“It’s all about taking away his time and space. You have to be in his face. The more time he has to wind up and play, the more dangerous he can become,” warned Gill. “It’s tough. He gets energized and he goes in spurts where he can be kind of crazed and he gets excited and you have to make sure you jump on those quick and make sure he’s contained and you can sense when he’s coming.”
With the run-and-gun offense that powered the Capitals to a league-high 318 goals for this season also comes odd-man rushes the other way. According to Gill, winning will all come down to patience and pouncing on those opportunities when they come knocking.
“Every year is different. They have a good team and we’re going to have to play well to beat them, but it’s a team that can be taken advantage of. We just have to do those little things and we’ll be alright.” Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.comSee also2010 Playoff CentralAngering Alex The art of the upset Spoiler alert Vote for the play of the week - April 12 First round schedule unveiled