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Winner take all

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
BROSSARD -- After fighting their way out of a 3-1 series crater, the Canadiens are heading to Washington for a crucial Best-of-1 against the league’s top team. And that’s exactly where the Habs were hoping to be.

“You can challenge yourself and your teammates in the playoffs and it’s so much fun, but the epitome of it is a Game 7,” described Michael Cammalleri, who leads the team with five goals in six games so far in the playoffs. “No matter what happens tomorrow night, someone’s going to shake someone’s hand as the winner and someone’s going to shake someone’s hand as the loser. The compete level is up, the battle level is up and you can push yourself more. I hope to keep doing it until mid-June.”

Since Day 1, the Habs have been clawing their way through the first-round series against the President’s Trophy winners as underdogs and that doesn’t look to change on Wednesday night. After winning a Game 1 few pundits predicted they’d steal from the No. 1 seed on the road, then sealing an improbable Game 5 victory again in Washington before evening up the series at the Bell Centre on Monday night, that role seems to suit Cammy and Co. just fine.

“There’s no shift. The pressure’s still on them,” reminded Cammalleri. “They’re supposed to win. They’ve got to beat us tomorrow night to win the Stanley Cup. They have been the favorites all along. It’s been, let’s go play our best game and have fun doing and get a chance to knock off the No. 1 seed. That’s a fun thing to do.”

Scott Gomez may also be loose and relaxed a day before the biggest game of the season to date, but don’t let his calm demeanor fool you. The postseason veteran knows exactly what’s at stake at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night.

“Loser goes home,” stated the two-time Stanley Cup champ. “It’s exciting to play in a Game 7 and we have the opportunity to move on. This is the position we wanted to be in. We’ll let it all out tomorrow and get the game plan tonight. To fight back, it’s still a long way and let’s not forget that Washington’s played some Game 7s too. It’ll be who’s going to get the breaks and who’s going to get the bounces that makes the difference.”

No stranger to winner-take-all hockey, Gomez has suited up for six Game 7s in his 10-year NHL career and has a pretty good grasp on what it takes to be on the smiling end of the post-game handshakes after the final buzzer.

“You look at the history of our game and with teams that make runs in the playoffs, it starts with goaltending. It always has,” professed Gomez, who played alongside Martin Brodeur en route to his 2000 and 2003 Cup wins in New Jersey and watched Jaroslav Halak channel his inner Brodeur with a 53-save performance in Game 6. “It’s the last game, we’ll see what happens. All series, Jaro’s been Jaro – he’s been like this all year. We’re going to need a whole team effort, but the guy was in the zone and we’re going to go as far as he takes us.”

At Gomez’s side for three of those crucial Game 7 match ups in New Jersey, Brian Gionta has a pretty impressive playoff pedigree of his own.

“I’ve been here before. Now, it’s a one game elimination,” explained Gionta. “Everything is in play. Both teams will be coming out flying and giving everything they have in the game. We just have to stay calm and play our game.”

While the Habs now have a chance to make history on Wednesday night as the first-ever No. 8 seed to rally from a 3-1 deficit to dethrone a No. 1, it’s not the ultimate prize Gio is focused on at the moment.

“We haven’t reached our goal yet. It wasn’t just to bring it to a Game 7. Our goal is still to win the Stanley Cup and our goal is still in sight.”

Shauna Denis is a writer for

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