BOSTON — The Montreal Canadiens haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1993, which is basically the equivalent of two lifetimes when you’re talking about hockey’s most successful franchises. While they may not be quite ready to end that drought this year, it’s clear that they’re certainly going in the right direction.
It would appear that there is a bit of a change in philosophy in Montreal, however, and it’s paying off so far. The Canadiens, by and large, still play the same style of hockey. They continue to value fast forwards, and as they showed Sunday night in a resilient win over the Bruins, they still have a knack for scoring greasy, grimy goals.
But there’s a little bit of an added edge to this Habs team. They’re never going to be able to go toe-to-toe with a team like the Bruins from the top of the roster to the bottom, but there’s some sandpaper in the bleu, blanc et rouge right now. We saw that Sunday night in a couple of ways.
Montreal’s roster overhaul has been gradual, but a couple of recent additions seem to stand out. Take a guy like Brandon Prust for example. Prust came to Montreal this past offseason after spending three seasons with the Rangers playing a physical, defensive brand of hockey. He’s already turning into a leader of sorts for the Habs, and he didn’t waste any time proving that he would do whatever it would take to earn the backing of his teammates, like when he fought during his first shift with the club.
He was at it again on Sunday night as well. Prust was able to get Milan Lucic to drop the gloves with him, and while he did take a pretty good beating from the Boston big guy, Prust took Lucic off the ice for five minutes in the process. He also blocked a couple of shots, registered three hits and played a very workman-like 14:39 for the Habs.
His effort was not lost on his coach or his teammates, either.
“What Brandon Prust did for this hockey team, I’ll call that great leadership,” head coach Michel Therrien said after the game. “I was going to make sure that players knew between the second period and third that we have to respond as team, and I thought we responded the right way.”
“We were smart when it came time, but you look at Prusty, he did a great job stepping up for the team when things got out of hand there,” Montreal captain Brian Gionta said.
Another important addition has been that of Brendan Gallagher. The rookie forward introduced himself to the rivalry in a big way on Sunday night. He picked up a pair of assists and was a plus-3. His contributions go beyond the stat sheet. In Gallagher, the Canadiens appear to have themselves a fearless player that isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas of the ice. He’s not afraid to work for the puck and win puck battles. Those are usually the types of players who rise to the occasion when the lights shine brightest, and he did that Sunday night at the Garden.
“It’s a type of game I enjoy playing in,” Gallagher said. “As a team I think we enjoy that style of game, we knew the way Boston plays and in this building where we are hated, it’s fun. That’s kind of what hockey is all about. For us to come in here and get two points to kick off our road trip like that, it’s going to be good for us.”
The Canadiens have appeared to find a pretty dynamic line combination that works, too. Gallagher skated alongside Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais, and that trio wreaked havoc on the Bruins all night long.
Make no mistake that Sunday’s win could very well end up meaning more than two points for the Canadiens. They have shown so far this season that they can hang with the Eastern Conference’s elite teams, and they show no signs of going away any time soon. With a little added grit and toughness, the Habs may be gearing up for a deep postseason run.
And you know what? Toughness isn’t always dropping the gloves and sticking up for your teammates like Zdeno Chara did. Sometimes, you can measure toughness in other ways, like coming back in the third period on the road like the Habs did Sunday night.
“We came in confident this year,” Prust said. “We have been jelling together and playing hard. We have confidence and we have a swagger, and I think that’s what you need. You need to have that confidence that you are going to come in here and win every night. We have been doing that for most of this season.”