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Subban, O'Byrne deliver on 'D' for Habs

by Corey Masisak /
PITTSBURGH – One is a phenom, wowing people with his skill and poise at a young age. The other was a project, taking time to develop into an NHL player and still yet to play a full season in the League.

Ready or not, P.K. Subban and Ryan O'Bryne were thrust into the lineup for the Montreal Canadiens because of injuries to top defensemen Andrei Markov and Jaroslav Spacek. Both have delivered and helped keep the Canadiens afloat during their surprising run in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"One thing that is a given in the playoffs is obstacles, and we're missing two key guys but we've had other guys step up," Dominic Moore said. "It is team defense for a reason – that is why everyone has to do their part."

Added O'Byrne: "That's what the playoffs are all about, right? Different guys have to step up and you need more than 20 guys."

O'Byrne was on the roster when the playoffs started, but he watched the first three games. When Spacek was lost to an undisclosed injury, it was O'Byrne's chance to play.

A third-round pick in 2003, O'Byrne spent three years at Cornell and one full season in the American Hockey League before splitting the next two between Montreal and Hamilton. He became a full-time NHL player this season but missed 19 games with a knee injury and seven for personal reasons.

Not only was he not part of Plan A for the Montreal defense, O'Byrne's partner, Marc-Andre Bergeron was moved to forward for two games during this run. They've been together for the entirety of this series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"Sometimes you don't play but when you get in there you have a chance to prove yourself all over again," O'Byrne said. "I think that was the situation with me and [Bergeron] for sure."

Subban took a much different route than O'Byrne. Going from Ontario Hockey League star to national recognition in the world junior championships to American Hockey League star for one year has earned him elite prospect status.

Still five days shy of his 21st birthday, Subban has been a revelation for the Canadiens in this postseason. He was called up for Game 6 against the Montreal Canadiens – his arrival pushed Bergeron to forward – but he's taken on a much bigger role since Markov was lost to a knee injury.

Subban might be the youngest player in this series, but is quarterbacking the Montreal power play and has a spot in the rotation of penalty killers. He had his first rough stretch in the first 40 minutes of Game 4, but responded with a strong third period that showed moxie beyond his years.

"I think that is what's great about him. Everyone talked about how would he handle stepping into the pressure of a playoff situation and it was no problem for him," Gorges said. "It doesn't really matter the situation or what is going on. His focus on what is going on is what has made him successful. I think that is what has made him so good. He's mentally strong, he knows how to play the game and he doesn't change how he plays for anybody or anything."
O'Byrne and Subban are not alone in exceeding expectations during this postseason for the Canadiens. Markov and Spacek were first and third among the team's defensemen in minutes per game during the season, so there was quite a void to be filled.

Gorges and Hall Gill have seen their ice time increase, and they've evolved into Jacques Martin's go-to shutdown defensemen. Gill is playing nearly three minutes per game more in the playoffs than he was during the regular season while Gorges has become the team's top time-on-ice guy since the Markov injury.

He averaged exactly 21 minutes per game during the regular season, and has eclipsed that in every postseason contest since Game 3 of the Washington series.

"One thing that is a given in the playoffs is obstacles, and we're missing two key guys but we've had other guys step up.  It is team defense for a reason – that is why everyone has to do their part." -- Dominic Moore
"They've been definitely getting recognition for a job well done," Moore said. "It is so key this time of year to have guys that are difference makers at both ends of the rink and in our end that's what they do."

Added Gorges: "I think that's kind of been the story of this team all year long. We've faced a lot of adversity and guys have stepped up and risen to the challenge. When someone goes down we always have someone that can step their game up and fill that void. It is a little bit shocking to see how well we've done but at the same point it is really not because we have a lot of depth and a lot of guys who want to do well."

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