BROSSARD, Que. – The Montreal Canadiens appear in no hurry to shed their underdog reputation, even after two stunning seven-game series wins have them in the Eastern Conference Final.
With a rare full-day off after eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins, Montreal players returned to the ice on Friday aware that the pundits may not be taking them so lightly anymore.
“There’s no doubt that the dynamic has changed a little bit, we’re aware of that,” said forward Michael Cammalleri, who leads the team and the NHL with 12 playoff goals going into Friday night’s Game 7 between Boston and Philadelphia.
“It can change for everybody else, but for us in this room, it has to stay the same.”
The Canadiens have been very workmanlike and low-key in their approach to each series, refusing to get sucked into the hype and hysteria that has surrounded their run.
But fans have become enamoured with a team that has defeated the Washington Capitals, a team that finished first in the NHL’s overall standings, and the defending-Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
Case in point, the suburban training facility where the Habs practice was teeming with fans and had more than double the number of spectators as usual taking in practice.
But the players were all preaching the same mantra: whoever they end up playing next, it’ll be a team that finished ahead of them in the regular-season standings.
“We’re a pretty humble group that way, we think we’re getting better, we think we’re improving, we don’t think we’re a great hockey team,” Cammalleri said.
“We’re working to be as good as we can and that’s what has led us to some success.”
Forward Brian Gionta said it’s up to the Canadiens to make sure the expectations are forged by the players themselves and not derived from outside sources.
“We want to win, we expect ourselves to win but we know it’s going to be a tough battle and it has been for two series,” said Gionta.
“It doesn’t get any easier from this point forward.”
Seldom-used fourth-liner Mathieu Darche said continuing to win means keeping things simple: a shift, a period, a game at a time.
“We can’t look too far ahead, we’re thinking about winning the first game (of the series),” Darche said.
“You can’t win the fourth one without winning the first one, we have to think short-term, you can’t be thinking Stanley Cup because we’re not there yet.”
The Canadiens top defenceman, Andrei Markov, participated in a full practice for the first time on Friday, paired with Ryan O’Byrne.
Markov, who hasn’t played since the first period of Game 1 of the Pittsburgh series, reportedly suffered a torn ACL in his right knee (an injury that hasn’t been disclosed by the team) and was expected to be gone for the season.
Coach Jacques Martin said it was clear that Markov had certain limitations on the ice and that medical staff would have to re-evaluate him. Markov did skate prior to Game 7 in Pittsburgh.
“This is his first actual practice, so today was a good opportunity for him to experience a full practice,” Martin said, but unsure if the Russian defender could play.
“It’s something we’re going to look at, but at this point and time, I don’t have an answer to that question and he’ll be day-to-day.”
Four players didn’t participate in practice on Friday: defencemen Josh Gorges, Hal Gill and forward Dominic Moore all took therapy days while Paul Mara, who had season-ending shoulder surgery late in the regular season, also didn’t skate.