BROSSARD – Only four days removed from a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Canadiens at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers likely haven’t yet forgotten any of the key moments that swayed the momentum Montreal's way earlier this week in Manhattan.
Neither have the Canadiens, who are looking to re-establish that momentum against those same Rangers Saturday night at the Bell Centre after dropping their latest outing - a 4-3 overtime decision to the New York Islanders - on Thursday in Montreal. The Canadiens saw a pair of two-goal leads disappear against the Isles, and their season-long winning streak was snapped at five games.
“We’re expecting the Rangers to rebound. They’ve got a good team with good speed,” said defenseman Raphael Diaz, who sits third in team scoring with 12 points (1G, 11A) on the season. “We played them only a few days ago, and we played a solid game. We’d like to be just as solid tonight, and maybe even apply some more pressure up front.
“They’ve got some big players,” added Diaz, now in his second year with the Canadiens. “We’re trying to play solid hockey, to take checks in order to make plays. If we continue to play that way, we’ll have success.”
The prospect of contesting a physical game excited 20-year-old rookie Brendan Gallagher who has been given clearance by the Canadiens’ medical staff to return to action after sustaining a concussion on February 16 against Philadelphia. Gallagher missed Montreal's last three games as a result of the injury.
“I hope it happens early in the game,” said Gallagher, citing a desire to engage himself in the match-up as early as possible. “When I’m out there for my first shift, I’m going to try to throw a good check…I’m just looking to put everything behind me quickly.”
Physicality aside, a potent New York offense led by Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin that combined for six shots and just one assist earlier in the week, will be looking to open things up against the Habs, who have allowed the fourth fewest shots per game in the league to date.
Eight total shots is all the Canadiens and Rangers could muster in the opening 20 minutes of Tuesday night’s contest, a scenario that is unlikely to repeat itself as Montreal and New York square off in their second-to-last meeting of the 2012-13 season.
Like Diaz, P.K. Subban expects the Rangers to come out of the gate quickly in an attempt to dictate play at their pace.
“We know that they’ve got some pretty high power forwards on that team, so it's going to be a good challenge,” said Subban, who played just under 18 minutes against New York on Tuesday. “I think every game's a challenge for us, especially when you play top teams like New York. You've got to come ready to play. I think that if we stick to the philosophy of our game plan, we'll be just fine.”
Montreal's game-plan failed to impress at least one member of the New York Rangers - three-time NHL All-Star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist – who, following Tuesday night’s loss, described it as “boring,” before praising the Canadiens for being a “smart team” and not affording many scoring chances to the opposition.
Subban took Lundqvist’s comments in stride on Saturday morning, pointing out that sticking to what works has the Canadiens playing winning hockey as of late.
“At the end of the day, we play a system and everyone's committed to it,” explained Subban, who has tallied seven points (3G, 4A) on the season. “I think that's kind of a compliment. When the other teams are talking about the system you play, it means that they notice it. There's a lot of teams in the league that have systems, but you don't notice it playing against them.
“The fact that we have a system and other teams are noticing that it does slow down the pace of the game a little bit, and gives us an opportunity to transition defense into offense, I think that means we're doing something right.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
Words from the room
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