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Tomas Plekanec unlikely hero for Canadiens in Game 2

Center scores tying goal against Rangers after poor season

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- When Montreal Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec arrived in North America from his native Czech Republic in the fall of 2002, he didn't speak a word of English and knew nothing about playing two-way hockey.

That's when he met Claude Julien.

The Canadiens coach was the coach of Hamilton in the American Hockey League at the time and helped shape Plekanec into the two-way center he eventually became, a role he has played in Montreal for all 12 of his NHL seasons.

 

[RELATED: Complete Rangers vs. Canadiens series coverage]

 

Except this season, the offensive side of the two-way center role went dry for Plekanec. He had 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) in 78 games, the lowest point total of his NHL career, and seemed to have lost the offensive touch that has made him such a valuable player for the Canadiens for so long.

So when the Canadiens were down a goal in the final minute of Game 2 of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the New York Rangers on Friday, facing the possibility of heading to New York down 2-0 in the series, Plekanec seemed to be a peculiar choice to send onto the ice.

But Julien called on him regardless, sending out the Canadiens player he has known the longest for the most critical shift of Montreal's season.

Video: NYR@MTL, Gm2: Plekanec ties game with late tip-in

And Plekanec rewarded him, scoring the tying goal with 17.3 seconds left in the third period to allow Alexander Radulov to score at 18:34 of overtime, tying the best-of-7 series 1-1 with a 4-3 win.

"I thought he was having a good game," Julien said to explain his decision to send Plekanec on the ice. "He's been put in those situations before. He's very capable of playing on the power play as well, but we use him a lot on the penalty kill for his faceoffs and his defensive expertise. … So that doesn't mean that at the end he can't be a good offensive player, and that's why we put him out there."

The Canadiens were changing on the fly as they entered the Rangers zone with just over a minute to play and goaltender Carey Price on the bench for the extra attacker when center Phillip Danault went for a change and Plekanec jumped on the ice.

While the Canadiens worked the puck around the offensive zone, Plekanec got set up in front of the Rangers net, where he was met by New York defenseman Nick Holden.

After a few battles in front for positioning, Holden took a swing at Plekanec's stick and broke his own in the process. It was a critical moment because it meant Holden was unable to tie up Plekanec's stick when he took a centering pass from Radulov and tipped the puck into the far corner behind Henrik Lundqvist to tie the game on Montreal's 44th shot on goal.

The normally demure and stoic Plekanec jumped into the glass, and his teammates mobbed him to celebrate with the ecstatic Bell Centre crowd.

"It was a big one," Plekanec said. "It doesn't matter who scored that goal, we're happy that somebody got that and got the game to overtime.

"It was one game. At the end of the game, it doesn't matter how we got it, but we got the game. We've got to stay humble and do the little things better than we've done in the series."

Video: NYR@MTL, Gm2: Radulov stuffs home OT winner

Plekanec hasn't had many moments to celebrate this season. But his teammates watch what he does every day, how he is assigned the opposing team's top offensive players game after game, how he takes big faceoffs, how he does things that people watching the game might not notice but people playing the game invariably do.

To see Plekanec do what he did after the season he has gone through made it doubly sweet for those teammates.

"He's not a guy that's going to outright say it, but you know that a guy that expects a lot, demands a lot of himself, could get frustrated at times," defenseman Shea Weber said. "Especially when he's asked to play a certain role and he does it really well. He's good on faceoffs, he's on the penalty kill, it's kind of an unsung thing.

"A lot of guys don't talk about those guys."

A lot of guys are talking about Plekanec now, even if he had trouble recognizing just how important the goal he scored Friday was.

After the game in the dressing room, Canadiens public address announcer Michel Lacroix quietly offered Plekanec the puck from his goal. He suggested to Lacroix that he put it on eBay.

"I don't know, it's a goal," Plekanec said later when asked why he didn't take it. "I mean, I'm not going to take a puck for every single goal. It was a big goal but …"

Plekanec's words trailed off.

He is 34 and has had a tremendous career, 10th in Canadiens history in games played (921) and 16th in points (581), leaving a mark on the most storied team in the NHL.

But this season was a difficult one, and because of that it wasn't just another big goal, and at that moment he seemed to realize it. 
"You know what?" Plekanec said. "I'm going to go take it."

That moment is one that is worth remembering.

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