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Subban, Canadiens put past behind them

Defenseman is First Star in bounce-back victory

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist/Historian

Postgame: P.K. Subban - Feb. 19

P.K. Subban on his night

P.K. Subban addresses the media following Friday night's shootout victory over the Flyers.

  • 02:10 •

MONTREAL -- Veteran Montreal Canadiens equipment manager Pierre Gervais was headed to the Bell Centre media buffet Friday, 90 minutes before the home team would take on the Philadelphia Flyers, when I intercepted him. 

"This is all your fault," I told Gervais. "If you'd done a decent job sharpening Subban's skates, if he hadn't lost an edge, if the rush up the ice didn't lead to the winning goal …" 

There was laughter by now from Gervais, a long-time acquaintance who has flawlessly sharpened thousands upon thousands of pairs of skates during his 27-plus years with the Canadiens' organization. 

"My fault!" he agreed, throwing his hands up with a guilty flair. 

Video: The NHLTN crew discusses the recent Subban Rumors

Just like Gervais to throw himself on his sword, one that was sharper than the edge Subban famously lost on Wednesday in Denver. 

In a few hours, the Canadiens would be 3-2 winners against the Flyers, stirring a game from its early slumber to produce something quite thrilling in overtime and a five-round shootout. 

Pushed to the background was Subban's now-legendary tumble in Denver, the Colorado Avalanche rushing the other way and ultimately scoring the late-game winning goal for a 3-2 victory, Montreal's third straight loss. 

That spurred Canadiens coach Michel Therrien to remark directly, without naming names, about Subban's mistake -- if you can call it that -- touching off a firestorm in a city whose hockey landscape has been often ablaze this sad-sack season. 

Friday's game-day skate brought the media mobs to the dressing-room stall of Subban and, upstairs in a conference room, to Therrien's news briefing. 

There was no problem between the two, they agreed separately, even if they weren't on the same page, which brought the principals and an anxious crowd to the Bell Centre, fans waiting to make up their own minds. 

It would have been fun to hear the crowd go batty with Subban's name introduced among the home team's starting six, but that wasn't to be; Nathan Beaulieu and Tom Gilbert drew the assignment. 

Video: Dale Weise about P.K. Subban

So Subban hit the ice 30 seconds into the game, at the first whistle, alongside Andrei Markov. A spirited "P.K.!" chant went up 25 seconds later. 

Goals exchanged 10 seconds apart early in the first period, each a ghastly looking thing, got the crowd into the promise of a high-scoring matchup between two old, sometimes bitter rivals. 

Subban assisted on Dale Weise's ice-breaker, his 40th assist of the season putting him at that plateau for the third consecutive year. 

But then someone poured sand on the rink and for the next 37 minutes, it seemed that the last team awake could be declared winner. 

There have been many wonderfully exciting, intense games among the 187 played by the Canadiens and the Flyers during five decades. And then there was this one, an appalling spectacle for the first 45 or so minutes. 

(Let's just say the health-club cardio crew had its work cut out trying to find a pulse in the crowd during a TV timeout midway through the second period.) 

But with the scored tied 2-2, the building was treated to a fun bit of action to the end of regulation, an electrifying 3-on-3 overtime and a five-round shootout that finally gave the Canadiens a 3-2 victory. Their fourth straight win on home ice served to end a three-game skid. 

There is no logic to suggest the Canadiens will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But until this team is mathematically eliminated, and surely after that point, too, don't expect anyone wearing the "CH" to roll over.

Video: PHI@MTL: Weise banks goal off a defender

Naturally, after the 48-hour hockey hurricane that swept this city, Subban would play a game-high 30:55, earn a second assist on captain Max Pacioretty's third-period equalizer, nearly get the winner in overtime and be named first star to the delight of the adoring crowd. 

Subban is a galvanizing figure. For all who love him, there are others who bristle at his flamboyance. He knows that, as he also knows that a good number of fans and media around the club have given up on playoff hockey this season. 

"As far as critics and people that want to pick apart what's going on in this dressing room, that's fine," Subban said, having conducted an on-ice interview and thrown three pucks to the crowd before striding into the dressing room. 

"I expect to hear it all from now until the end of the season. I've been here long enough to know the best thing to do is go out there and perform and produce and that's the best way to shut people up. A lot of people are going to shut up after today." 
Well, since this is P.K. Subban, yes and no. 

The 26-year-old has lived more emotions in Montreal than many will experience in a lifetime; the fan and media dissection of the past two days alone was ridiculous. 

"I love it, I love it," Subban said. "I would not have accepted the contract of eight years here if I didn't feel comfortable with the ups and downs of the city. I've played here long enough (that) I embrace it all. … 

"I've learned from veterans who have played here before me on how to stay even-keeled. That has always seemed to help me. I always feel I play my best hockey when people want to pick me apart, both my character and me on the ice. And that's fine. I just want to be better every day for my team and my teammates. I want them to have the trust in me that when I go on the ice, I can get the job done." 

Video: PHI@MTL: Pacioretty ties it up with a power-play goal

The roller coaster, Subban admitted, is sometimes beyond his control. Clearly, he authors many of the headlines, but so, too, is he a bystander when things spiral off around him. 

"Sometimes, it's just created and it's (like) I don't even know what I did," he said with a grin. "For me, it's all a part of playing in this market. Either you love it (and) embrace it or you don't, like you're not cut out for it. For me, I think I'm a perfect player made for this market because I enjoy it. I don't complain about the downs and when the highs are here, I never get too high. 

"The one thing that has remained consistent is the fan base here. The people in this city and the community have always supported me and have always been there to support me. My family and myself appreciate that." 

It's not the roller coaster of this market that Subban relishes; it's everything that Montreal has to offer, in good hockey times and bad. 

"I embrace it because the city itself is amazing," Subban said. "There's so many great things about this city that I can't afford to even talk about the negatives. I have nothing to complain about here. I've been rewarded for everything that I've worked for and I continue to try to give everything back to this team and this organization and the city." 

So 48 hours after the Disaster in Denver -- in Montreal, one lost edge creates a proper event -- a young defenseman took at least a part of a game by the scruff of the neck and gave it a shake. 

Of course he did. And you expected nothing less. 

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