It was an optional skate, but Max Pacioretty was taking as much time as he could to take it all in.
He was in Madison Square Garden, in the playoffs, in as close to a homecoming as a kid from Connecticut that grew up playing hockey can get.
His Montreal Canadiens may be facing a do-or-die Game 3 on Thursday night, trailing the Rangers 2-0 in the series, but for Pacioretty, the game means so much more because of his history with the city and the building and all the family and friends he’ll have in the crowd.
“I didn’t want to get off the ice,” Pacioretty said. “Normally I don’t do that. There’s a lot of pride coming here.”
Pacioretty has been an increasingly dangerous factor for the Habs of late, scoring Montreal’s only goal in Game 2’s 3-1 loss and playing more minutes than any other forward so far in the series.
He was the second star one night and the first star the next in the Canadiens Game 6 and 7 heroics against the Bruins. He seems to know he’ll need to continue to drive the bus of the team’s offence the way he did during the season in putting up 39 goals, fourth most in the league.
Being at home is simply that much more motivation, even if some of those in his corner are coming out in Rangers jerseys.
Pacioretty spent the night before Game 3 with his friends in the city and could sense there was some internal conflict in the group.
“Growing up in Connecticut, it seems like the path is you go to college and then you work in New York City,” he explained. “All of my buddies live and work down here. I’m trying to keep in touch with as many as I can right now.
“They’re Rangers fans. But they obviously want me to have success. I don’t think we ever talked about if we were matched up against each other in the playoffs – I don’t want to put them in an awkward position asking them [who they’re cheering for].”
Pacioretty didn’t play at MSG this season due to a midseason injury but has two goals in his last three games here, including the tying goal in a win last season on a one-timer that fooled Henrik Lundqvist.
He was hopeful on Thursday there are a few more where that came from.
“I dreamed about coming here when I was younger,” Pacioretty said. “Regular season is one thing but playing here in the playoffs is a whole other level.”