BROSSARD, Que. – It was almost too cruel to be true.
Montreal Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges was still coming to grips Sunday with the broken strap on his foot guard that limited his mobility and allowed Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux to open the scoring in a 3-0 Game 4 win for a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference final.
“It’s frustrating,” Gorges said after a brief team meeting Sunday at the Canadiens’ suburban practice facility. “I came back to the bench and, it was no fault of anyone, but I was ready to just yell. But who do you yell at?”
Gorges said the strap broke about 15 or 20 seconds before the goal 5:41 into the second period and he was unable to push off on his skate because he stepped on the strap as Giroux easily skated around him before roofing a shot short side on Jaroslav Halak.
After playing most of the season wearing the plastic guards—which prevent foot injuries when blocking shots—Gorges is considering abandoning them for Monday’s Game 5 match-up in Philadelphia where the Canadiens will be playing to keep their season alive.
“I’ve thought about it all night, I’ve thought about it today, and I don’t know,” Gorges said. “There are so many pluses to it. You look at (the guards) and mine are scratched up and marked up, it shows how many times you get hit in the foot. So it has a benefit, but it’s too crucial if something like that happens again.”
As a kid growing up in Kelowna, B.C., Gorges probably dreamed of moments like the ones he’s living now on the Canadiens’ magical playoff ride.
He spent countless hours in the gym and on the ice to get ready for his unlikely career as an NHL defenceman, one that has seen Gorges go from an undrafted free agent in 2004 to a pillar of the Canadiens defence.
But after all that preparation and all that sacrifice, to have a completely random act like a broken strap on a piece of equipment potentially derail that playoff success is difficult for Gorges to handle.
Game 4 was a pretty even battle before Giroux’s goal. After the goal it was anything but. The Canadiens generated very little offensively, finishing the second period with only one shot on goal to match a franchise record low, while the Flyers increased their lead to 2-0 by the end of the second and never looked back.
If Montreal goes on to lose the series, the Giroux goal and the Gorges equipment malfunction may prove to have been a turning point of the Eastern Conference final.
“It’s frustrating because you prepare yourself to get the job done, then something happens like that,” Gorges said, still visibly upset about the incident. “You’re taking the proper measures to make sure you’re at your best and you don’t get hurt so you can go out there and play. Then something like that happens.”
Gorges was far from being the only player in Saturday’s game to experience equipment issues. Fellow Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban also had the strap on his foot guard break during play, and Hal Gill said Montreal equipment manager Pierre Gervais is working on a solution to make sure it doesn’t happen again on Monday.
The Flyers had several players forced to leave the game to have their skates sharpened, with NBC reporting during its telecast that “sand or some other foreign substance” was on the floor outside the Philadelphia dressing room.
None of the Flyers openly admitted that after the game, even though towels were laid down on the tunnel leading to the ice.
“I didn’t comment on it last night, I have no comments,” Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said Sunday’s Flyers practice in Voorhees, N.J. “I’m not sure exactly what it is you’re talking about.”
The Canadiens laughed off the suggestion of any wrongdoing on their part, especially considering they were having skate issues of their own.
Head coach Jacques Martin said that at one point in the second period he had Scott Gomez and Dominic Moore in the dressing room getting their skates sharpened, leaving him with only two centres on the bench.
“I think it’s probably the new sticks,” Martin said, searching for an explanation. “Because of the intensity of the playoffs and the battles, skates get on those composite sticks and it causes more damage than the old wooden sticks.”
Flyers centre Mike Richards, who left Game 4 three times for a sharpening, also pointed to stepping on sticks as a possible reason for the dull blades.
But considering the cloak-and-dagger nature of the playoffs, are the Canadiens concerned that there will be some retribution from the Flyers at the Wachovia Center on Monday night?
“I don’t think any team would do something like that,” Gorges said. “If anything, if the fans get word of this, they might try to throw something in the tunnel as we’re walking out.”
Notes: Canadiens winger Tom Pyatt didn’t come out for the third period of Game 4 with an upper body injury. Martin said he was to travel to Philadelphia and is considered day-to-day, meaning the key penalty-killer and third line energy forward is not ruled out for Game 5…The Canadiens are 5-0 in elimination games in these playoffs, and sniper Michael Cammalleri has six of his league-leading 13 goals in those five games.