BOSTON – It started with a torrent of hate. But P.K. Subban was feeling the love after the Canadiens disposed of the Boston Bruins.
The charismatic Montreal defenceman, the target of racial abuse after his winning goal in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series, planted a kiss on broadcaster Pierre McGuire to wrap up their post-Game 7 interview Wednesday night.
“Yeah baby,” said a jubilant Subban after McGuire congratulated him for reaching the Eastern Conference final, which starts Saturday in Montreal against the New York Rangers.
More than a few hockey fans may have fallen for the underdog Habs after their performance against the big bad Bruins.
The Canadiens are hard-working, proud and tenacious.
“It’s definitely a special team and if we didn’t know it before the playoffs, we definitely know it now,” said forward Max Pacioretty, who bounced back from a slow start in the series.
“I said when I got here, I just feel like this is a special team,” echoed forward Dale Weise, acquired from the Canucks on Feb. 3. “I was on Vancouver the year after they went to the Cup final, we won the Presidents’ Trophy—there’s something about this team that’s just special.
“We’re real resilient. When our backs are against the wall (and) we need a big performance, our big players show up. And we’ve got so much depth. I really like our team.”
The Canadiens’ work ethic was eloquently voiced by coach Michel Therrien prior to Game 2, in words most saw as a prod at Thomas Vanek and other underachieving forwards.
“One thing that’s not negotiable with our team … work ethic is not negotiable, attitude is not negotiable and competing is not negotiable,” he said. “This is something we ask from every player on our hockey team. We have to make sure that everyone brings those elements to every single shift and every single game.”
Therrien was rightly proud Wednesday.
“This is a great accomplishment from that group. We just beat the best team in the league. We were down 3-2 (in the series) and we showed a lot of character, a lot of passion. To be able to win the series here in Boston, it’s a tough place for teams to come and play here. I’m really proud about the performance of our players.”
Carey Price was majestic in goal, with ice water in his veins. His rebound control was exceptional, he declined to bite on any of the Bruins forwards’ shake and bake, and he was there to clean up when a mess was left in front of him.
He was unflappable. When the zombie apocalypse finally hits, those nearest Price will likely be thanking their lucky stars.
The Habs star had plenty of help. Price faced 230 Bruins shots during the series with his team blocking another 146.
Mike Weaver, all five foot 10 of him, stopped 20 of those. “A human wall,” said Weise.
But as Price and Therrien noted, the Boston series win will be yesterday’s news come the Eastern final.
Montreal faces another Original six rival in the Rangers, who are coming off an emotional win of their own over Pittsburgh.
And having survived Vezina Trophy finalist Tuukka Rask with Boston, the Canadiens now face Rangers stopper Henrik Lundqvist who strapped the Rangers on his back in the elimination game against the Penguins.
Price and Lundqvist met at the Olympic final in Sochi, where the outclassed and depleted Swedes were beaten 3-0.
King Henrik has a 13-11-2 career record against the Canadiens and has struggled in Montreal where he is 4-5-2 with a 3.87 goals-against average and .876 save percentage.
That may explain why backup Cam Talbot played the two games at Montreal this season. Lundqvist has not played at the Bell Centre since a 4-3 shootout victory in March 2009. His last regulation victory there was a 5-3 decision in February 2008.
His career save percentage against the Habs is .897. Price, meanwhile, is 8-5-1 with five shutouts and a .934 save percentage against the Rangers.
Montreal finished four points ahead of New York in the regular season. The Canadiens blanked New York 2-0 in the Rangers’ home opener on Oct. 28, lost 1-0 at the Bell Centre on Nov. 16 and edged the visiting Rangers 1-0 in overtime on the final weekend of the season.
It’s the first playoff meeting between the two since 1996 when the Rangers defeated Montreal 4-2 in the Eastern Conference quarter-final.
It marks their 15th post-season meeting, with each team having won seven times. And it’s the third playoff series between the two since the 1979 Stanley Cup final, won four games to one by Montreal.