A couple of guys signed by the Montreal Canadiens last summer as unrestricted free agents are helping extend the team’s sunny days this playoff season.
Roman Hamrlik and Tom Kostopoulos have both had big hands in helping the Canadiens get the upper hand on the Boston Bruins. Neither raised a ton of excitement when they signed with the club last July, but for different reasons.
Hamrlik was inked to what many thought was an inflated four-year deal that averages $5.5 million each season. Most believed he was an insufficient replacement for Sheldon Souray, who signed with Edmonton as a free agent.
Kostopoulos, on the other hand, didn’t attract much fanfare at all when he signed a two-year, $1.8 million pact. That’s mostly because all that was really known about the journeyman winger was that he’d played more American Hockey League games than National Hockey League tilts in his career.
But both proved to be very serviceable in their respective roles this season and are cranking it up a notch in the playoffs. Each had found the net through the first three games of the series, which was certainly not a big part of their games during the season. The contributions, however, go well beyond that.
Hamrlik is on board with the Mike Komisarek school of defense, the founding principle being that any and all opponents always look better on their backside than standing up.
He’s taken healthy runs at some of Boston’s bigger forwards (ask Milan Lucic) and seems determined to make Montreal a more miserable team to play against.
Kostopoulos, along with linemates Steve Begin and Brian Smolinski, has provided a physical presence up front. The trio excels at doing little things right, getting pucks deep, cycling down low and taking care of business defensively. Kostopoulos’s leg-churning effort has drawn crucial penalties and ensured coach Guy Carbonneau has a solid third option to put on the ice, while his top two forward units catch their breath on the bench.
Stars always have to light the way come playoff time, but Hamrlik and Kostopoulos are doing their best to make Montreal’s immediate future a little brighter.
This column also appears in the Montreal Metro newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.
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