BROSSARD, Quebec – Max Pacioretty might be ready for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Montreal Canadiens left wing and leading scorer took another step towards a return to the lineup Monday when he practiced with his teammates for the first time since he sustained an upper-body injury April 5.
It was Pacioretty’s third straight day on the ice and he said he was able to skate at 100 percent exertion for the second straight day, though he has not yet been cleared to take contact.
“Before a game obviously you try to practice with the team, full contact,” Pacioretty said. “[Monday] was a special teams practice, so it was the perfect timing [to come back to practice]. I have to get cleared for contact, that’s the next step.”
The Canadiens play Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Ottawa Senators at home Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; CBC, NHLN-US, TVA).
Pacioretty was injured in a game at the Florida Panthers when he was hit by defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, slid and fell hard into the end boards.
He appeared to have trouble getting up after the initial contact with the boards and was helped off the ice. The Canadiens remained in Florida the next day for a day off and did not fly back to Montreal until last Tuesday. Pacioretty was examined by the Canadiens medical staff last Wednesday.
“When you’re sitting in Florida you’re thinking best or worst case possibilities,” Pacioretty said. “But as soon as I got back and met the doctor I felt pretty comfortable and I felt confident that hopefully I can come back sooner rather than later.”
The Canadiens focused almost exclusively on special teams at practice Monday and Pacioretty was a full participant, skating with center David Desharnais and a rotation at right wing of PA Parenteau and Devante Smith-Pelly on the top power play unit.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien was happy to see his top scorer back on the ice, but he assured everyone that Pacioretty will not be rushed back to action too quickly.
“One thing’s for sure, we’ll take him when he’s ready,” Therrien said. “It could be Wednesday, it could be [for Game 2] Friday, it could [for Game 3] Sunday, we don’t know when. One thing’s for sure, when he returns to our lineup he’ll be at 100 percent.”
There has been plenty of speculation in Montreal the past week about the nature of the injury. One accessory Pacioretty had on at practice Monday helped fuel further discussion. He was wearing a tinted visor for the first time.
Senators forward Clarke MacArthur took to wearing a similar tinted visor when he returned recently from a concussion, saying the lights bothered him on the ice. Pacioretty said there was no such concern for him, it was purely aesthetic.
“I’m just trying to look a little more flashy out there,” Pacioretty said.
Pacioretty finished the regular season tied for fifth in the NHL with 37 goals, and he’s been particularly effective against the Senators this season with four goals and two assists in four games. The rest of the Canadiens combined to score five goals against the Senators.
The Canadiens have lost their past three games against the Senators as well as a heated playoff series two years ago, and Pacioretty thinks his team is coming in to the series with a bit of a chip on its shoulder.
“If you look at the big picture, yeah, we do have a lot to prove against this team,” he said. “They have had our number this year, and two years ago in the playoffs as well we struggled against them. At the end of the day it’s come to a pretty good rivalry and I expect the games to get a little more emotional and a little more physical because of that.”