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Reilly finds game in Canadiens debut against Islanders

Defenseman proves good fit following trade from Wild

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- It hit Mike Reilly like a sledgehammer before his first game with the Montreal Canadiens.

It had nothing to do with new defensive systems, the unknown route from his downtown hotel to Bell Centre, that he surely was hearing more French than English, or the expectations of the Canadiens' famously fickle fans.

Unpacking his suitcase in his hotel room hours after he arrived in Montreal, Riley had a panic attack.


[RELATED: Niemi, Drouin help Canadiens send Islanders to fourth straight loss]


He couldn't find his dress pants.

"I was freaking out for about 20 minutes," said Reilly, a defenseman traded to the Canadiens by the Minnesota Wild for a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft on Monday, after Montreal's 3-1 win against the New York Islanders on Wednesday. "I called my mom and she said, 'Look here,' and what do you know? They were right there."

Lisa Reilly flew into Montreal on Wednesday and was in the crowd to watch her 24-year-old son make a strong Canadiens debut in his 85th NHL game. Reilly was making postgame plans to take her out for a late dinner, "though I don't know any eating places here."

Finding a restaurant on Montreal's rich gastronomic landscape will be the least of Reilly's worries in the days to come. 

He was a long way from the Chanhassen, Minnesota backyard rink of his childhood, the slumping Islanders four points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference, and the Canadiens 11 points out heading into the final weeks of their schedule before they pack up for a long offseason. 

Paired with veteran Jordie Benn, Reilly was credited with a game-high 22:56 of ice time, 10:36 more than what he averaged over 38 games with the Wild this season. Sixty-one seconds were on the power play, a pleasant surprise to the 6-foot-2, 195-pound defenseman who was learning on the job, taking a crash course in Canadiens defensive systems.

Tweet from @mreilly93: Very excited to join the @CanadiensMTL organization and be a part of this historic franchise! #Habs

"I'm going to be cautious on that -- we looked at the game stats and we're not sold on them," coach Claude Julien said to laughter in his postgame media briefing. "I don't think those are too accurate right now. Maybe they'll be corrected by tomorrow, but he still had a fair amount of ice time and he played well.

"(Reilly) had a chance to ask a lot of questions at practice (Tuesday) and we showed him a lot of stuff. I told him, like I tell a lot of players, 'Just go out there and play and be comfortable. If there are certain things that need to be adjusted, we'll tell you as the game goes on.' You want the guy to have a clear head and be confident, and I think that's what he showed tonight. We're pleased with his overall game."

What Reilly did know was that he'd seen considerably more ice than he was used to in Minnesota, happy to have been able to get into an early rhythm and get the feel of the game.

"I was just going out there, expecting to get somewhat of a regular shift, and go from there," he said. "Shift after shift, to be in the game, it's pretty nice."

Reilly knows only victory on Bell Centre ice, his single game in Montreal before Wednesday a 3-0 Minnesota win on Nov. 9.

"It was awesome," he said of the energy in the arena during his first game in a Canadiens jersey. "Everyone talks about it -- when you come in here, whether you're a rival or not, it's going to be a loud building with crazy fans. It's definitely what I expected and it probably exceeded my expectations a little bit. One game down with a long way to go but it's pretty cool to play in front of that crowd."

Reilly sees the homestretch of this season as a chance for himself, and others, to make an impression and set the table for 2018-19.

"The future is all about winning," he said. "It looks like they're dialed in and want to finish strong. That's what a good team and good teammates do, to get some momentum going for next year. 

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Lisa Reilly est au Centre Bell ce soir pour le premier match de son fils Mike avec le Tricolore!In the house tonight... Mike Reilly���s mom, Lisa, to check out her son���s first game with the Habs! #GoHabsGo

"A lot of guys who could get good opportunities here, it could be a good test for guys like that who want to make a good impression going into the offseason. It's going to be a long summer but that's just the way it is. Hopefully we can finish strong here and play well for the fans and have no quit in our game."

For now, Reilly and Canadiens goalie Charlie Lindgren, a fellow Minnesotan, are staying in the same downtown hotel. Had Reilly been unable to find his dress pants, he said that he would have borrowed a pair of Lindgren's, the two similar in height and weight.

"Charlie's my Uber driver," he said with a grin. "And he plays good music. Us Minnesota guys like country music, so we agree on that."

Reilly is just relieved that his mother, who'd helped him hastily pack for his trip to Montreal, knew the whereabouts of his pants. 

"Buried under my shirts and my suit on some hangers," he said. "She said they were in a bag. Our communication was a little off but she knew. I guess that's what moms are for."

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