As a team, Montreal is the one Bruins fans most love to hate. In terms of individuals, defenseman P.K. Subban is a lightning rod for the Black and Gold faithful.
He knows how to get under opponents’ skin and is a very talented blue liner, one who is challenging to play against, which only adds to his role as chief villain.
And after scoring two power-play goals in the Canadiens’ series opening 4-3 victory in double overtime Thursday, including the winner, the villain also played the hero.
“It’s great that we won but I’ve played against these guys more than a few times over the last couple of years and in the playoffs,’’ said Subban, who scored his first two goals of the playoffs. “This is a resilient team. That’s not something you can say about every team. But against these guys, I’ve got to give them credit, they always battle back. They always find a way to persevere. Tonight, it feels good to be the team that found a way to get it done.’’
Subban’s teammates know what he brings to the team.
“I think he’s an important player,’’ said Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges. “You look at what he does on the ice, his ability to make plays and control the game.
“Any team we face, teams are always wanting to finish checks on him and make sure that he has to play hard minutes when he goes out there. We don’t expect anything to change in this series.’’
Subban thrives in that role, and according to Gorges, the bigger the stage, the better he performs.
“He’s a player who always steps up on the big occasion,’’ said Gorges. “When the game means a little more, when there’s more on the line, he seems to rise to the occasion, and I don’t think it will be any different in this series. We’re going to need him to be great for us.’’
Montreal forward Lars Eller acknowledged that Subban is frequently a target but it is a role he’s not only comfortable with but enjoys.
“He just seems to be a player who gets under everybody’s skin,’’ said Eller. “Most of all, he’s a hell of a hockey player. He’s hard to stop.
“For whatever reason, he really gets under people’s skin and that’s something that’s good for us. P.K. can stand up for himself. His game always steps up the more important it is, and he likes these kind of challenges. That’s the kind of player he is.’’
Keep it up
The Canadiens said they want to play the way they played against the Tampa Bay Lightning, whom they swept in the opening round. “We want to play an up-tempo, in-your-face kind of game where we’re pushing the pace and we’re skating hard and we’re skating fast,’’ said Gorges. “But we’ve got to keep our emotions in check. Obviously, when you get into the playoffs against any team, there are a lot of emotions involved in these games, but it’s a team that stays the course and stays within themselves that usually comes out on top.’’
The Canadiens played a disciplined game against the Bruins and were called for just three penalties.
Diving? Unheard of
The Canadiens have a reputation for diving in an attempt to draw penalties — case in point, Dale Weise drawing a penalty on Matt Bartkowski that led to Montreal’s first goal — but as much as that subject is discussed in Boston, Gorges said it was news to him. “I’ve never heard that one before,’’ said Gorges. “And that’s OK. People can have their opinions, they’re entitled to their opinions and say what they want. Our job is to go out there and play to get a win.’’ . . . If Brad Marchand is the Bruins’ resident pest, forward Brendan Gallagher is developing into that same role in Montreal. Asked about Gallagher’s play, Gorges said, “You have to walk that fine line. You have to play in their face and you have to have guys willing to go to the net, live in the paint, but you can’t be bumping the goalie and taking penalties or retaliations if they give you an extra shot. You’ve got to play hard and you’ve got to play fast but you’ve got to play smart at the same time.’’
The feeling is clear
Bruins coach Claude Julien said he hates the Canadiens even though he used to coach them. That didn’t come as a shock to Montreal players. “I think we knew that before he said it,’’ said Gorges. “This rivalry has gone back well before I started playing hockey. There’s no love lost between these two teams. I think we knew that coming in, how they felt about us.’’ . . . The Canadiens went 2 for 3 on the power play . . . Eller said Bruins fans are among the most vocal in the league, though Philadelphia is close. “This is definitely the most unfiltered crowd,’’ said Eller. “It’s just fun, it’s part of it, it’s part of being in Boston. The fans are really into it.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Elle1027.