Skip to main content

Cammalleri, Halak add to Habs' rich playoff lore

NHL.com @NHL

BROSSARD, Quebec (AP) -When the Montreal Canadiens turned the page on their first century earlier this season, Ken Dryden invited current members of the storied team to write their own history.

"And why not make it great?" the Hall of Fame goalie suggested on the occasion of the Canadiens' 100th anniversary game against Boston on Dec. 4.

Looks like the 2009-10 team took Dryden's advice to heart.

Montreal has stunned the hockey world by reaching the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in 17 years. The eighth-seeded Canadiens upset President's Trophy winners Washington and reigning Stanley Cup champions Pittsburgh in the first two rounds to go deeper into the playoffs than they have since 1993, when they won their 24th Cup.

They will face the winner of Friday night's Game 7 between Philadelphia and Boston.

"I remember if you go back to the summertime and signing here and talking with the guys and stuff it was like all you hear about is the history," left wing Michael Cammalleri said Friday following practice.

Cammalleri, who has scored 12 goals in 14 playoff games, signed with Montreal as a free agent along with Brian Gionta, Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek, Travis Moen and Paul Mara after former general manager Bob Gainey acquired center Scott Gomez in a trade with the New York Rangers on June 30.

"As a player you put yourself in that position that you're going to be in a place that wants to win and expects to win," said Gionta, who combined with Cammalleri to score 12 of Montreal's 19 goals against the Penguins. "And I think that's why guys came here, for that kind of history that the organization has."

With Saku Koivu and Alex Kovalev among a group of 10 players from the previous year's team who were not re-signed, a whole new squad assembled in the Canadiens' dressing room beneath the fabled excerpt from the World War I poem "In Flanders Field": "To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high."'

"That's the whole idea, they want us to continue the success so you try your best to do it," said Cammalleri. " ... It's a pretty special thing when you have guys like that saying, you know, 'Run with it."'

All-Star defenseman Andrei Markov had a tendon in his left foot sliced by goalie Carey Price's skate in the regular season opener, touching off a spate of injuries that prevented new head coach Jacques Martin from icing a complete version of the revamped lineup.

Gainey stepped down on Feb. 8, handing over the GM duties to his assistant, Pierre Gauthier, who acquired center Dominic Moore three days later in an unheralded trade with Florida which has paid huge dividends in the playoffs.

The Canadiens finished fourth in the Northeast Division at 39-33-10, squeaking into the playoffs with 88 points - less than St. Louis, Calgary and Anaheim, who all failed to make the playoffs in the West, and one ahead of the New York Rangers by virtue of a point earned in a 4-3 overtime loss to Toronto in their final regular season game.

Few hockey pundits gave Montreal a chance to get by Washington, which led the league with 121 points and 318 goals, including 50 by Russian star Alex Ovechkin.

Fewer still believed the Canadiens could overcome a 3-1 series deficit, but goalie Jaroslav Halak led the way as Montreal reeled off three straight wins in elimination games to oust the Capitals.

Sidney Crosby's Penguins chased Halak from the net in a 6-3 win in the second-round series opener in Pittsburgh and it looked like the defending champions would not fall prey to the Canadiens' playoff magic.

Halak recovered his form and neither team was able to win consecutive games until Montreal stunned the Penguins with four unanswered goals on its way to a 5-3 victory Wednesday night to win its second straight Game 7.

"It's all about believing and we believe in ourselves," said Moen, whose short-handed goal put Montreal up 4-0 and chased Marc-Andre Fleury from the net.

As the Canadiens wait to find out whether they will fly to Boston or Philadelphia on Saturday, they recognize that few will cast them in the underdog role going forward.

"We think we're getting better," Cammalleri said. "We think we're improving. We don't think we're a great hockey team and we're working to be as good as we can and that's what's led us to some success so we'll keep trying to get better every game here."

View More