MONTREAL — He is Pernell Karl “P.K.” Subban, and you cannot take your eyes off him. He is Montreal’s best player and he is the man who is thus far killing the Bruins in their conference semifinal series.
Subban is everywhere on the ice. He is in the middle of all the action. He has scored three goals in three games and he is, in the words of former Celtics general manager Jan Volk, “the consummate provocateur.’’
It is hard to remember anyone who has made more news in the first three games of any playoff series. Subban has 6 points in three games and has been involved in multiple controversies. He has thus far been better than (gulp) Zdeno Chara.
“P.K. is a gamer,’’ said Montreal coach Michel Therrien. “This is what I appreciate from him.’’
Let’s retrace Subban’s marks on the ice in the last week.
He scored the game-winning goal on a booming slapshot in the second overtime of Game 1 at TD Garden last Thursday. Postgame, he was the subject of some racist tweets, and the Twitter fire led the 6 o’clock news Friday night. Subban handled the controversy with rare dignity and professionalism. He was downright Churchillian. For a few minutes, it was hard to dislike the man’s game.
Bruins fans went back to hooting on Subban for his dirty deeds in Game 2. He set up two goals as the Habs built a 3-1 lead, but infuriated Garden legions when he ducked to avoid a Shawn Thornton check in the third period. It was considered a violation of Hockey Ethics 101, and the Causeway Street mockery of Subban resumed.
Now this. Subban almost singlehandedly destroyed the Bruins in Montreal’s emotional Game 3 win at the Bell Centre Tuesday.
He picked up an assist midway though the first period, then made a run at Reilly Smith (inadvertently hurting teammate Thomas Vanek) and was tagged with the first penalty of the night, for roughing.
When Subban’s two minutes expired, he burst from the penalty box, skated toward the Bruins zone, took a tape-to-tape pass at the blue line from Lars Eller, and went in alone on Tuukka Rask. Subban faked Rask into the rafters, flicked the puck into the net, and celebrated with a couple of Rene Rancourt fist-pumps. It was his 11th point in seven playoff games.
There was more, of course. With the clock winding toward zero, and the Bruins trying to complete yet another two-goal comeback in the third period, Subban did what veterans do. Rushing toward the puck behind his own net with 13 seconds left, he “accidentally” bumped the goal off its moorings.
No penalty was called. And the Canadiens were able to skate out the clock after the ensuing faceoff. Rask called Subban’s subterfuge a “veteran move.’’
Bruins coach Claude Julien didn’t seem to like the shifty maneuver, but did not cry foul.
“We can’t control it,’’ said Julien. “The refs make the calls. If we are focusing on the referees, our focus is not in the right place.
“You can look at that little stuff and complain about it, but that’s not what we do. We have to play better.’’
Bruins enforcer Thornton was similarly reluctant to point fingers.
“He’s doing a good job creating space for himself,’’ said Thornton. “He’s getting on his horse and getting back as quickly as possible. You’ve got to tip your hat to him. He’s playing a great series.’’
That hurts. The last thing we want to hear is the Bruins grudgingly giving credit to P.K. Subban.
Subban deflected all praise, saying, “I’m just the beneficiary of guys playing well around me, supporting me. We did it together. It’s not just one or two guys. It’s everybody.’’
Subban was the No. 1 star of Game 3. He led all players with 27:50 of ice time. He’s had far more impact on this series than the estimable Chara.
P.K. Subban was born in Toronto, 25 years ago (next week), one of five children of Karl and Maria Subban. Karl and Maria immigrated to Ontario from Jamaica in the 1970s. P.K. left home at the age of 16, joining the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League, and joined the Canadiens in 2010.
In 2013, Subban won the Norris Trophy, which is given to the NHL’s best defenseman. His brother, Malcolm, is a Bruins goaltending prospect.
Red Auerbach would have loved this guy P.K. Subban. He is the total package of talent, guts, and guile, and he is only getting better. Frustrated Bruins fans no doubt would be calling for a Subban statue if he played for the spoked-B’s.
But he is the enemy. And he is beating the Big, Bad Bruins thus far. They have no answers for him . . . yet.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org