MONTREAL – P.K. Subban is not someone who needs extra motivation this time of year. He got it anyway, and it came from a source that is unique to being a player for the Montreal Canadiens.
Subban has consistently shown, ever since his rookie season, that when the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin he becomes a difference-maker.
Defense - MTL
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 3
SOG: 7 | +/-: 2
But the type of difference Subban nearly made for the Canadiens in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Ottawa Senators
is not what people are used to seeing from him.
Subban was ejected from the game on Wednesday and given a major penalty for slashing Senators forward Mark Stone on the wrist at 8:23 of the second period. The Canadiens won the game 4-3 without their best defenseman, and Subban became the focal point of the series, as he usually does.
The pressure was on him to perform Friday in Game 2, a situation he’s always thrived in.
But we had no idea how much pressure he was actually under.
When Subban was named the first star of Montreal’s 3-2 overtime win after scoring a goal, putting five shots on goal, attempting eight others that were blocked or missed the net and playing a game-high 29:06, he revealed who had predicted just such a performance.
With the crowd chanting his name and drowning him out, Subban gave an on-ice interview following the victory.
“After the last game, Mrs. Beliveau told me I was going to be better tonight,” Subban told the crowd. “And here she is, wearing a Subban jersey.”
The in-house camera then cut to Elise Beliveau, wife of the late Jean Beliveau, blowing him a kiss while wearing her No 76 Canadiens jersey.
Subban revealed after the game that it was after the second period of Game 1, while he was standing just outside the Canadiens' dressing room dressed in his suit, that Mrs. Beliveau saw him and gave him those encouraging words.
There are not many teams who can draw on motivation like that, and there are not many players who would use them as well as Subban did.
“It’s so funny; before the game I was worked up and I got even more worked up when I saw her sitting behind the glass, and she stands up and shows me that she’s wearing my jersey,” Subban said, a big smile on his face. “It was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. It’s good to know that I have that support.”
Subban did not have much support in Ottawa after what he did to Stone, and the Senators all spoke of the need to be physical with him without going out of their way to chase him around and seek retribution.
The spotlight was on and Subban delivered. As Subban often does.
“I expected him to have a good game,” Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. “We know P.K. well, and P.K. was P.K.”
Subban’s goal was vintage Subban; he took a Devante Smith-Pelly pass off the sideboards and one-timed a rocket high over Senators goalie Andrew Hammond, who ducked as the shot went past him.
No one could blame Hammond for his reaction. His life might have depended on it.
“Our focus is never on one player, but given the circumstances, it stings a little bit, for sure,” Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki said of watching Subban score. “He’s a dynamic player. He’s gifted offensively, he’s got a great shot. He’s going to get those chances.”
Defense partner Andrei Markov was so excited that he gave Subban a kiss on the helmet after he scored. The Canadiens fans in the building and watching at home all probably wanted to do the same.
“I think I got two kisses from him today,” Subban said. “I don’t know. If I had a girlfriend I think she’d be jealous.”
Subban has a goal and two assists in a game and a half in this series, which shifts back to Ottawa for Game 3 on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The support he felt in Montreal on Friday will feel like a distant memory in Canada's capital, where Subban is public enemy No. 1 right now. He'll know it as soon as he steps on the Canadian Tire Centre ice for Game 3.
And he won’t care. Or, an even more frightening thought for the Senators, it will make him even better.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a player that wants to step up in big games and make a difference,” Subban said. “I always feel that the more pressure that people put on me, the better I’m going to play. I play for my teammates, though. I wanted to be better for them today, I want to be better every night for them. I want to be able to do the job.”
He did that and more Friday, with a little help from a friend, one who makes the Canadiens a unique team to play for.
“It’s special,” Subban said. “It’s like nothing in the world, comparable to the New York Yankees. Unless you play here, unless you play in these games, you don’t know.”