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P.K. Subban's return nothing to smile about

Predators defenseman teared up during video tribute, left dejected following last-second loss to Canadiens

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- The roots of P.K. Subban's love affair with the people of Montreal could probably be traced back to his beaming smile.

That smile is what always attracted television cameras to him, and that smile being broadcast into the living rooms of Montreal Canadiens fans in large part led to him being so adored by them.

Subban's trademark smile was nowhere to be found Thursday prior to his first game against his old team, and it wasn't very prominent either after his Nashville Predators lost to the Canadiens 2-1 on a goal by Paul Byron with 8.3 seconds remaining.

The Canadiens played an 85-second video before the game that summarized Subban's time in their organization, starting with him thanking the Canadiens hockey operations staff at the 2007 NHL Draft for picking him in the second round, showing off that megawatt smile right off the bat.

The video then weaved its way through Subban's great moments on the ice and great moments off the ice, including some sound from his speech at the Montreal Children's Hospital when he announced his $10 million fundraising commitment, a moment that cemented his legacy in this city for life.

Video: NSH@MTL: Subban tears up in return to Montreal

The video ended with Subban celebrating a goal and his longtime defense partner Andrei Markov, acting as a surrogate for Canadiens fans everywhere, kissing him on the helmet.

By the time the video ended and the scoreboard cut to a shot of Subban on the Predators blue line, there were tears streaming down his face as he raised his stick to acknowledge the standing ovation he was receiving, stone faced as he tried unsuccessfully to contain his emotions. 

There was no smile.

"I wasn't really sure how I was going to feel," Subban said. "I played a lot of hockey games in this building, a lot of great things happened in this building and in this city while I was here, and all those memories come back. Whether it's stuff to do with the hospital or kids or family, teammates, hockey games, emotional games. 

"I felt that I shared that with all the fans and the community here, and I guess that's how it all came out."

Those tears provided some degree of closure for Subban, who still doesn't know why the Canadiens traded him to Nashville for Shea Weber on June 29, and probably doesn't want to know at this point.

Subban got to spend two days in Montreal, during which time he received a Meritorious Service Decoration from the Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, visited the hospital with teammates Roman Josi and Mike Fisher, something he never did with his teammates in Montreal, and ate dinner at his favorite restaurant.

The one thing left to do was reacquaint himself with those fans who fell in love with his million-dollar smile and never got a chance to give him a proper goodbye.

The last game Subban played in a Canadiens uniform was a week shy of a year earlier, March 10, 2016, when he left the ice on a stretcher after he injured his neck, ending his season and, though no one knew it at the time, his career in Montreal.

It was not an appropriate lasting image for the end of Subban's time in Montreal. That was rectified Thursday.

"It says a lot about my approach to this organization since I was drafted and what it meant to be a Montreal Canadien," Subban said. "But now I'm ready to move on. I'm happy it's been an awesome couple of days seeing family and friends. Now I'm ready to move on and make a push for the Stanley Cup."

Subban's Predators teammates understood how important this moment was for him and did their part to make it special.

For warmups, the Predators raised their sticks to create a gauntlet for Subban to run through and hit the ice, where he was greeted with chants of "P.K.! P.K.!" that were a staple of nearly every game here over his seven years. Then they let him take a spin around the ice by himself, as if he was a rookie.

"It was just kind of spontaneous before the game," Josi said. "We wanted to give him a nice entrance."

Subban made sure he was the last player to leave the ice when he went to the bench to grab his sticks, and as he skated back across to the Predators dressing room he received an ovation louder than any you are likely to hear at the end of a warmup.

Prior to the start of the game Subban made sure to blow a kiss to Elise Beliveau, the widow of Jean Beliveau, sitting in her usual seat behind the Canadiens bench. She often wore a Subban jersey to games, though she didn't on this night.

Then the game began and Subban set up the Predators only goal, a Ryan Ellis one-timer on the power play at 18:25 of the first period. By the third period, with their Canadiens trailing 1-0, the Bell Centre fans took to booing Subban every time he touched the puck and left the building cheering a victory for the home team.

"I think that's the first time I've been booed at the Bell Centre," Subban said. "I kind of enjoyed that."

If the night provided a sense of closure for Subban, perhaps it did for the fans as well. Because as Subban left the ice he wasn't smiling, and those fans couldn't have been happier that was the case.

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