MONTREAL – I’m not sure Marc Bergevin could have called a better person to address his Montreal Canadiens at this critical juncture in their quest for the Stanley Cup, as they wait for a semi-final opponent and try to avoid the same problem they just ended up. to do as a team. blow ran against.
Enter Bob Gainey, one of Bergevin’s predecessors as the Canadiens’ general manager, a man of few words but one of even fewer wasted. A legendary player of the game who was once described as “technically the most complete in the world” by Russian coaching guru Viktor Tikhonov and was once praised by some of the greatest players of all time for his role in one of the the most important championships. teams of all time in 1979. He has faced every situation imaginable, including the one the Canadiens have right now, and you can bet that every player in that room devoured every word he used to inspire and keep them in mind space. what do you need. be in this moment.
It is a bigger challenge than anyone can imagine. You would think that a team eight victories away from a Cup could immediately regain the rhythm, but no preparation can guarantee that.
I spoke with former Canadian Nate Thompson about how he and his current Winnipeg Jets teammates couldn’t get over this after sweeping the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of this year’s playoffs. I asked if they could have come close to being fired, while the Canadiens were in the process of coming back and beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games, differently, and their answer perfectly encapsulated why they couldn’t and why any team in a one-off. similar position would have been challenged.
“I’m not sure what it can do, to be honest,” Thompson said via text message. “You can practice all you want, but the break just takes away the rhythm of the games and the feel of the playoffs. They take away the mentality of having every other night as a game night and being in that rut. “
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It’s not like a gamer logged out on purpose. They are often described as creatures of habit, and that’s not a far-fetched idea.
Having broken routines for eight days, as the jets did between the dispatch of the greasers and the confrontation with the Canadians, is a mental challenge that cannot be overcome with will.
If the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, that would mean a Saturday start for the Canadiens against them in Round 3, meaning there are only four days left between games. You’d think the Canadiens might prefer Avalanche to force a seventh game, for both teams to travel one more time and play an additional six periods in addition to the two games, but Thompson is probably not the only one to think it would be best for them to do so. just come back to play asap.
He knows how well the Canadiens played to beat their Jets, how they got the full support and execution of the entire team, and he knows the value of keeping that going.
Bergevin too, hence Gainey’s arrival on Wednesday.
“We were lucky that Mr. Bob Gainey spoke to us about exactly that,” said Brendan Gallagher. “You talk about experience, there are not many organizations that can fall back on alumni with the amount of experience that this one has, and we were lucky to have one in the building today. And he was able to talk to us about some of the things he’s been through in his career and some of the things he’s seen, and it was exactly that: how important it is going to be to start Game 1 and really implement our style of play.
“It was a passionate speech, it was good to have him here, and those are the things we are going to do this week to make sure your break is balanced, but also keep you mentally and physically fit. We don’t want our game to fall from where it was when we finished the series. So it’s something we’ve talked about and something that we’ll make sure is a key focus here as we prepare for Game 1. “
We imagine the guy they invented the Selke Trophy for might as well have had some words of praise for the defensive commitment that led the Canadiens down this path. Perhaps Gainey cited what happened in 1976, when his Canadiens closed out the best open circuit in the NHL. – a Philadelphia Flyers team that had averaged more than four goals per game in both the regular season and the playoffs, and was chasing its third Stanley Cup in a row – and Gary Dornhoefer said: know what brand of deodorant they are using. “
I think the Jets feel the same now.
Dominique Ducharme provides updates on Jeff Petry and Jake Evans
The Montreal coach reiterated Wednesday that the Canadiens hope Jeff Petry is only out for the short term after missing Game 4 of the Winnipeg series with a hand injury.
“Jeff, like we said after the game, we think he will go back to the beginning of the series,” Ducharme said of his defender with the most goals this season. “We don’t know if it will be Game 1, 2 or 3. We hope for the best. So there is no update now, because it doesn’t change for him. You need a few days. So when it’s game time, if he’s not there, we feel like he’ll be pretty close. “
As for Jake Evans, who suffered a concussion in charge of Game 1 that saw Jets forward Mark Scheifele suspended four games, Ducharme said there is hope he can return in this next round.
“Jake is doing even better today,” Ducharme said. “Yesterday he went to our gym and exercised, he is progressing well. Can you join us in this series? It’s possible. At what point? Too difficult to say today.
“For an injury like that, it is more important for the person than for the player. That Jake is 100 percent is the most important thing. “
That’s especially true given that this was Evans’ third documented concussion since 2018.
Artturi Lehkonen receives high praise from the executive
Evans fell when he played the best hockey of his career and also, if not better, than most of the Canadiens’ forwards. He was the most used player up front in the game in which he got hurt.
And yet, if it were somehow made available for Game 1 of the next series, we can’t think of a way to get back into the lineup right away.
Part of that is because everyone’s game has dramatically improved since Evans fell, and another big part is Artturi Lehkonen coming back from a concussion suffered in Game 3 against Toronto and filling Evans’ skates admirably.
“He just played the best games of his career,” said an Eastern Conference executive we spoke with after Game 4, in which Lehkonen scored for the second straight game. “I have seen Lehkonen a lot over the years and I have always liked the way he plays. Great forechecker, great backchecker. He does toughen up a bit in the scoring areas, but he does everything the right way and has never given up a play, even with someone lining him up. “
I’d say the same about Evans, who has a little more offensive poise.
If the Canadiens need to turn to him after a difficult loss or because someone else suffers an injury, he will be able to provide exactly what he provided before he was injured, if he is fully recovered and comfortable enough to return.
But even if Evans is healthy and unable to claim his spot right away, it only highlights the good in these Canadiens. Their depth and balance have gotten them here, and Ducharme has said time and again that he understands how crucial that is to their success.
Environment control in Montreal
I am 38 years old and have lived in this city all my life. It’s everything visitors say about it – a beautiful metropolis, a unique and vibrant place with a mostly harmonious and multicultural society, and it’s exactly what you expect it to be when Canadians are doing it right.
There’s just an extra touch, but this is even more apparent now given everything we’ve been through since COVID-19 hit in March 2020. We were locked in and under curfew from January through most of May, and we are now on the cusp of moving from orange to yellow and green areas.
On Wednesday, the Montreal Gazette reported that 77 percent of eligible Quebecers had already received their first vaccination, a higher rate than any other state in the US, and that Montreal dropped to just 60 daily cases of the new coronavirus. If that’s not cause for celebration, I don’t know what is.
What Canadians are doing is taking joy to another level. I feel it wherever I go, in every interaction I have with even the most casual observers.
Many people have asked me what it was like to have 2,500 fans at the Bell Center for the last three games, and I described the first experience as emotional as I thought about what it represented in terms of hope of getting out of this dire pandemic soon.
But I cannot describe in words how amazing the atmosphere in the building has been. I’m not sure 2,500 would sound that loud anywhere else.
I know what it means to players. Gallagher said Wednesday that it gave them a huge boost and it was a big reason they won their last three games at the Bell Center.
But I also think about what it means to your partners.
And think of those who came to Montreal from other cities in the off-season and knew they would have to wait for the real benefits of being a part of the Canadiens family and the city to come true.
Can you imagine how special this experience has been for these people?
They spent the entire year basically alone, tested twice a week, never allowed to be together and often separated from the players, who made three long road trips to western Canada, and their first glimpse of what it is. when the Canadiens are doing. Well, he comes with the team better than he has in seven years.
The vibration they are experiencing is absolutely electric and the voltage will only increase as we go along.