PHILADELPHIA – Returning to the Wachovia Centre on Sunday brought back a memory for Montreal centre Glen Metropolit of the time he skated for two teams on the same day.
On Nov. 27, 2009, Metropolit took part in a game-day skate with the Philadelphia Flyers, who had signed him to a two-year contract as a free agent that summer.
But in the afternoon, the Canadiens claimed him on waivers. Since Montreal was the visitor that night, Metropolit had to move his gear to the visiting team’s dressing room. Then he played against his former teammates.
”I skated in the morning with Philly,” Metropolit said with a laugh. ”That afternoon, I got a phone call from (general manager) Paul Holmgren saying ‘I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is you’re playing tonight. The bad news is you’re playing for Montreal.’
”It was a whirlwind day, that’s for sure. That whole game was a blur. I just tried not to change on their bench. I made sure I went to the right bench. It was really weird walking by and seeing all the security guards that I’m used to seeing and then, right down here, a whole new gang (of teammates).”
Now the Canadiens are facing the Flyers in the NHL Eastern Conference final.
The Flyers tried to sneak Metropolit through waivers to make space under the salary cap because top-line centre Daniel Briere was about to return from an injury, but instead lost him to the Canadiens.
”It was a shock because I had signed a two-year deal,” he said. ”The way it ended up wasn’t too nice, but everything happens for a reason.
”I ended up playing a great role in Montreal and now here we are playing them. It’s pretty ironic.”
The 35-year-old Metropolit is coming of perhaps his best NHL season. The Toronto native had a career high 16 goals and 29 points with the Canadiens and was one of their best scorers on the second power play unit.
He tore a shoulder muscle and missed the final six games of the regular season, but was able to return three games into Montreal’s first round playoff upset of the Washington Capitals. He has two assists in 11 post-season games, seeing limited ice time.
It is not certain that the Canadiens will try to sign him when he becomes an unrestricted free agent again this summer, but for now, coach Jacques Martin likes his gritty fourth-line pivot.
Sergei Kostitsyn’s purgatory appears to have ended, but the out-of-favour winger is still not in the lineup. The Canadiens opted to leave Andrei Kostitsyn’s younger brother at home when they travelled to Pittsburgh in the last round of playoffs to avoid any distraction, but he was with the team as they arrived in Philadelphia for the conference final.
He was not expected to play, but Martin said ”he’s part of the team,” adding that his status with the club was ”between him and me.” During the last round, Sergei Kostitsyn got into a verbal exchange with back-up goalie Carey Price after a game-day skate.
With the recent return of Jaroslav Spacek and the fine play of rookie P.K. Subban, defenceman Ryan O’Byrne was not expected to play Game 1 of the conference final.
The Flyers shrugged off Montreal defenceman Hal Gill’s pre-series comment that it is easy to hate Philadelphia because of their physical style of play.
Flyers forward Arron Asham, a former Canadien, said ”it seems like everyone hates us. That’s fine with us. I think we’re a rough tough team and we’ll just go out and try to win games. We’ll do whatever it takes.”
Philadelphia centre Daniel Briere recalls playing against Gill last spring, when the big defenceman was a member of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
”He was great then, too,” said Briere. ”I’ve watched a few games this year and he played great against Ovechkin and Crosby.
”But we’re a different team than Washington or Pittsburgh. They had superstars. Up front, I don’t think we have the same superstar power that Washington or Pittsburgh have, but maybe a little more depth. Hopefully that plays into our favour.”