Rewind the tape by 12 months or so, and observe the contrast.
Then: Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien was a visibly tense man on the angry end of a running dialogue with Ottawa counterpart Paul MacLean during their first-round matchup.
Now: Therrien is firmly camped on the jocular side of this year’s playoff air war. The man is even allowing himself to guffaw in full public view.
Asked about his Game 3 lineup by Montreal Gazette hockey writer Pat Hickey, Therrien offered a platitudinous “You’ll see tomorrow.”
“You realize at my age I might not be here tomorrow?” said Hickey, who is 70.
At the lectern, peals of head-thrown-back laughter (it was Therrien’s second such occurrence in the series; on Friday, he howled when an anglophone reporter from Montreal abruptly shot him a question in perfect French).
Turns out there were things to learn from that Senators series. A few days before the second-round set with the Bruins opened, Habs defenceman Josh Gorges remarked on the fact that “last year we lost our heads” against Ottawa, and that the team assimilated the lessons from that experience.
Apparently their coach has also, although it surely helps that he has a healthy squad this time around, and only one loss in six playoff starts.
If the Habs were on the losing end of the verbal gamesmanship (and ultimately, the tactical battle) last season, the players and their coach are trying to seize the mischievous high ground this time around.
On Sunday, Bruins defencemen Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug seemed to suggest their team has identified a flaw in Montreal goalie Carey Price’s game. “We’ve definitely noticed that when he’s screened, he’s looking low,” Hamilton said.
Admitting to aiming high on an elite NHL goaltender is a fundamentally uncontroversial observation, but hey, playoffs!
So Therrien good-naturedly piled in, earning extra style points by conflating the comments with Boston coach Claude Julien’s kvetching about the officiating after the Bruins’ stirring comeback win in Game 2.
“It’s something they’ve tried in the past. We all remember in the Stanley Cup final when they talked about [Chicago Blackhawks goalie] Corey Crawford, how he was giving up goals glove side. It’s a part of their strategy,” he said. “It’s the same thing with Claude’s comments, how they had to deal with penalties – which I find they’re coming out of it pretty well – so they’re trying to influence the decision of the officials. These are the Boston Bruins. It’s always been like this and it won’t change.”
The Bruins’ weekend remarks – and the chatter they generated – certainly didn’t seem to affect the laconic Price, who called the apparent discovery “pretty generic.”
“That’s pretty much the scouting report on everybody,” he said. “So it’s the same for [Boston’s] Tuukka [Rask], it’s the same for me, it’s the same for Ben Bishop, it’s the same for Corey Crawford. It’s a pretty irrelevant comment, I thought.”
Price’s teammates mostly offered quizzical smiles when asked whether the Bruins have figured out their goaltender.
“That works only on Carey Price?” asked centre Lars Eller.
“I’ve been shooting on him for two years now, and I’ve yet to find a weakness,” added winger Brendan Gallagher. “So I don’t know if they’ve got one. In our minds, he’s the best goalie in the world and he shows that every night.”
When Gorges was asked if he might care to expound on Rask’s weak points, he pursed his lips and said “uh, no.”
The 26-year-old Price was a little haggard on Monday after spending part of the night trying to locate his two Labrador retrievers, who slipped under his garage door; a passerby spotted and returned them shortly after 6 a.m. after learning from a Montreal sports radio station that they were missing.
“I had my bathrobe on when I answered the door. I was probably quite a sight to see,” said Price, who put the word of his escaped canines Mozart and Duke out on Twitter. “I think it’s good karma, because I picked up a dog four or five months ago and returned it to the owner. What goes around, comes around.”
Despite the third-period meltdown on Saturday – the Habs allowed four goals in 10 minutes – there was no sense at practice that the reversal will have lasting effects.
“I think the day off [Sunday] did some good. It allowed everyone, starting with me, to decompress and come back to earth, to assure we concentrate on the right things and to play tomorrow’s game in a charged-up building,” said Therrien. “It’s the best place to play a playoff game.”
The Habs could make some lineup changes for Game 3 on home ice.
Defenceman Douglas Murray practised alongside third-pairing stalwart Mike Weaver, and Ryan White took fourth-line reps in place of grinder Brandon Prust.
The Habs will bring some strategic tweaks into their game plan on Tuesday – they spent considerable practice time on breakouts and fore-checking.
If it’s true that a team takes on the personality of its coach, they’ll also bring their smiles.