BROSSARD, Quebec — There was a prevailing tenor in the Canadiens dressing room shortly after they staved off elimination in Game 6 of this second-round series against the Bruins Monday night at the Bell Centre.
But it wasn’t relief. It wasn’t gratitude at shutting out archrival Boston, 4-0, either.
It was a simmering burn, a defiance even, a message that they deserve to be where they are. Captain Brian Gionta declared before Game 6 that there was no way the series was over.
After Gionta was proven correct, defenseman P.K. Subban, who has been a lightning rod for Boston the entire series, said they are confident in who they are, confident in the game they play, and they welcome the hate that will rain down on them at TD Garden Wednesday night.
“I hope it’s a hostile environment,’’ said Subban, his eyes blazing. “It makes it all better. I can’t wait for the crowd and the noise and the energy in the building. And I can’t wait to take that all away from them.’’
Forward Brandon Prust, who played his best game of the series in Game 6, said he understands Subban’s attitude but feels just going into a Game 7 is incentive enough, no matter the opponent.
“We don’t need any fuel,’’ said Prust, one of a few players who addressed the media at the Habs practice rink Tuesday. “We want to win. We know what kind of opportunity we have here. We’re doing our best to keep going. We still have that one goal in mind.
“I know definitely when people disrespect you, it does give you a little extra added fuel. I know P.K., he’s had some good games in Boston and he does feed off that negative energy. But we don’t need any more fuel, we have enough in here.’’
It stands to be a battle of teams that have built up a significant amount of animosity toward one another. After Bruins winger Milan Lucic flexed his biceps in Subban’s direction during Game 5 — a gesture the Canadiens viewed as disrespectful — Montreal forward Dale Weise returned the favor during Game 6.
“There’s a lot of that going on with their team, their players and even, honestly, their fans,’’ said Prust. “They can show as much disrespect as they want but it doesn’t really bother us at all. I think that was just Weise giving a little bit back and just mocking [Lucic] a little bit.’’
The Habs believe the Bruins have taken some liberties, with some examples coming late in Game 6 when the outcome was already decided.
“For me, I’d rather not stoop to their level,’’ said Prust. “We have a lot of pride in this dressing room and they can do whatever they want. We want to beat them on the scoreboard and beat them in the series.’’
Neither team can afford to get into a jousting match in Game 7, and put the fate of the series into the success or failure of special teams.
“We’re a pretty in-your-face hockey team as well and we’ve got to be careful with penalties,’’ said Prust. “We’re not really worried about what they’re going to be doing and about what they’re going to be bringing. It’s kind of all about us in this dressing room and what we’re going to do.’’
Subban said they’re going to focus on the play between the whistles, not after them.
“We’re going to continue to play and be classy, like the Montreal Canadiens organization is and always has been, play the game on the ice and leave all the crap off of it,’’ he said.
As for the negative energy expected from the Bruins fans, Subban intends to turn a blind eye — and ear — to it.
“I don’t give them that credit,’’ said Subban. “But I go and play the game. I play to win, I don’t care who’s there. I don’t care if there’s nobody in the stands. I’m going there to win. So, it’s irrelevant to me, and that’s got to be our attitude.’’
Max Pacioretty, who found his game Monday, said Game 6 was the best he’d seen a Canadiens team play since he’d worn the uniform. Prust said it came as a result of a high level of desire.
“You could tell, we wanted it bad and everyone went out and did a job,’’ said Prust. “We were working together as a unit. We stuck to the game plan, we stayed patient. We buried some more opportunities. It was a good all-around game by everybody.’’
But the Habs don’t shy away from the physical game.
“With our speed, it creates contact as well,’’ said Prust. “It means we’re getting on pucks and we’re forcing the play and forcing the issue and hitting. They kind of go hand in hand.
“When you’re physical, you’re taking away their time and space and not giving them time to make plays and move the puck. It doesn’t mean huge, big body checks, but it’s right in your face.’’
One of the factors in Game 6 was how well the Canadiens were able to neutralize Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.
“We just had a little more jump in our step and we were getting on their D a little quicker, which is part of our game plan,’’ said Prust. “Whether it’s Chara or whoever it is back there, we want to force the issue.’’
The dark horse was 21-year-old defenseman Nathan Beaulieu, in his first NHL playoff game, and he was a real standout. Coach Michel Therrien said it was a calculated risk that paid off.
“What I like about Nathan is his speed and his poise with the puck,’’ said Therrien. “I’ll tell you something, we understand we put him in a tough position, but it’s a process.
“He’s been with us at times this season. He’s working really hard with [the practice players] and we were thinking, ‘When is it going to be the right time?’ We didn’t have any fear to put him out there because we knew the kid’s got character.’’
All the Canadiens expect to show similar character and poise when the puck drops for Game 7. Therrien said it doesn’t matter what the Bruins are saying.
“We’re ready to compete,’’ he said. “I don’t like to talk about the other teams. I know they do like to talk about us at times. I’m focusing on my players, my team.’’