Max Pacioretty wore his poker face ahead of the Stanley Cup Semifinals against the Montreal Canadiens.
The Vegas Golden Knights forward spent his first 10 NHL seasons with the Canadiens, from 2008-09 to 2017-18, and was captain during his final three seasons. He was traded to Vegas on Sept. 9, 2018, for a second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and forwards Nick Suzuki and Tomas Tatar.
"I don't think it makes any difference who you play in the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs," Pacioretty said Sunday. "You've just got to treat every game the same way. We had two emotional series, and I'm assuming this will be the same against a big, strong team that we haven't played yet.
"It's no different if you're playing the first team in the League, a team you played for in the past. They're all the same in the playoffs, and you have to approach them all the same way."
Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Monday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS, SN).
Pacioretty scored 448 points (226 goals, 222 assists) in 626 games with the Canadiens. He has been even more productive with the Golden Knights, scoring 157 points (78 goals, 79 assists) in 185 games.
He has scored eight points (four goals, four assists) in seven games in the 2021 playoffs. He missed the first six games of the Stanley Cup First Round against the Minnesota Wild because of an undisclosed injury.
Video: COL@VGK, Gm4: Pacioretty snipes puck by Grubauer
The 32-year-old said he understands his time with the Canadiens is part of the story of the series, but what's most important is that he's a competitor trying to do his best at all times, no matter where he is.
"Life's the same anywhere you go," Pacioretty said. "I've had a lot of fun and success both in Montreal and in Vegas as well. They're two completely different lifestyles. You're living in different countries and different climates and activities to do. I coach my kids (in hockey) here. My kids were younger in Montreal so I don't know how that would have gone time-wise and whatnot.
"A lot's being made … it sounds like the tone is life is just so much easier in Vegas rather than Montreal. I know people want to say that and it sounds great. However, I had a lot of great years in Montreal. I had a lot of success there. I'm very happy about how I performed when I was there and same thing with my game here in Vegas. Whether you're under the microscope or not, you put that same pressure on yourself day in and day out. All the best players do, and I don't consider any of the outside noise as extra added pressure."
Pacioretty has scored two points (one goal, one assist) in three regular-season games against the Canadiens. Vegas (Honda West) and Montreal (Scotia North) did not play each other during the regular season, when the NHL realigned its divisions to have only intradivisional games due to the coronavirus.
Although Pacioretty was downplaying the past connection and the emotions it may stir up, others were citing them as inevitable when the Golden Knights play the Canadiens, possibly referencing that Montreal owner Geoff Molson and general manager Marc Bergevin each said the forward asked to be traded, something Pacioretty has denied.
"[Pacioretty] went through a lot in Montreal; (it was) not happy for him," said Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher, Pacioretty's former teammate. "Happy for the success he's had in Vegas. But in terms of this series, those relationships, they're kind of in the past for a couple of weeks.
"We have to focus on what we need to focus on. He's going to do his own thing. It's probably going to be an emotional time for him, for sure. A lot of memories and stuff like that. But for us right now, we're keeping our mindset as simple as possible. Those relationships are kind of in the past. Get back to what we had [after] the next couple of weeks. But for the time being, it's all business."
Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer said the storyline about Pacioretty's trade from Montreal to Vegas will be a lot to unpack going into this series.
"The motivation is obvious on both ends, both [Pacioretty] playing his old team and the history there and the guys that Vegas sent there playing against us," DeBoer said. "Obviously great history there. Any time you move on from a team, you always have better memories once you're removed from some times past and gone by. And I know talking to [Pacioretty], he has great memories of Montreal and his time there and great respect for the organization."
Pacioretty's teammates said they appreciate the emotions he may face in the series against Montreal.
"It's going to be extra motivation for him, for sure," Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault said. "It's going to be a good battle. He's going to go through a little bit of emotion. It's going to settle down after the first period and it's going to be a good test, and we definitely want to be there for him. He spent 10 years of his career there. He's been a captain and a great leader on and off the ice, and it shows here how good of a guy he is."