When the stainless-steel double doors to the Montreal Canadiens’ dressing room slide open a short corridor leads you to the goaltenders’ stalls.
On this occasion, Carey Price was pulling his undershirt over his head, back to the room, and looking down at a pile of his equipment.
One is tempted to say he was doing so accusingly.
A few feet away, a forest of television cameras and reporters was massing around Habs captain Max Pacioretty, who spoke in a low, measured voice (a smaller thicket gathered near defenceman Andrei Markov, one of four alternate captains).
“It could have gone either way,” he said, and he wasn’t wrong.
After overtime losses NHL dressing rooms are quiet places (the opulently-appointed space was largely empty, the loudest noise was an aerating fan in a corner), which isn’t to say they are peaceful.
The emotions of a close 3-2 defeat to the New York Rangers, who return home with a chance to end the Habs’ season on Saturday, were plainly still raw.
At one point toward the end of the captain’s traditional post-game media grilling, Pacioretty took issue with a questioner.
“In the third period, it took 11 minutes to get a shot on net, in the overtime two shots, what were they doing right to block you from getting to Henrik?” asked radio reporter Jeremy Filosa.
“I’m sorry, I think I just answered that question,” he said.
“It seems like you think it was bad luck that you guys . . .” Filosa continued.
“I didn’t say that,” Pacioretty replied.
“I thought you said you got out-changed late,” came the rejoinder.
“I thought we got out-changed later in the overtime, I thought we out-changed them early in overtime, that’s important with the short change. I didn’t say the game was luck at all, I said it could have gone either way, so, um, I don’t know,” he said, turning to someone else.
He also said the club has mostly weathered the negativity that accompanies playoff losses, which is especially important in Montreal.
“We just need to worry about one game at a time and tune out all the noise,” Pacioretty said.
His disappointment and anger were fairly typical for the circumstances; being ask to dissect your shortcomings for a roomful of journalists is no one’s idea of fun.
Plus, hockey players like to win, and had Pacioretty been slightly more fortunate on a breakaway opportunity with the game tied in the third period, the Habs may well have done so.
Then it was Brendan Gallagher’s turn under the lights (fellow goal-scorer Artturi Lehkonen came out simultaneously).
The Edmonton-born Gallagher, a soft talker at the best of times, was barely audible in this instance.
Asked about the slashes and pokes he took on the evening – including a jab in the ribs from New York’s Mats Zuccarello – he said, “it’s the playoffs, you’ve got to be able to handle that stuff.”
He also made the obligatory references to the need for character to shine through and to take it one game at a time.
It got more interesting when Gallagher talked about how to manage the emotions following defeat and victory – situations all the players in the room have faced, albeit some more recently than others.
Players like Pacioretty, Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk remember the last time the Habs trailed a series 2-3 (in 2015, when they lost Game 6 in Tampa and were eliminated).
They also remember the series previous to that, in 2014’s second round, when they Habs found themselves down 2-3 against Boston, won Game 6 at home, and then won the series on the road in Game 7.
Montreal fans will remember that game for P.K. Subban’s performance both on and off the ice; he scored seven points in the series and said after a Game 6 win at home he was eager to see Boston’s noisy crowd because “I can’t wait to take it away from them.”
Older veterans like Price, Markov and Tomas Plekanec will remember 2011 (a Game 7 loss to the Bruins, who would win the Stanley Cup under now-Habs coach Claude Julien) and 2010, when the eighth-seeded club fought back from 2-3 deficits twice to beat the much-fancied Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in back-to-back series.
What’s the essential lesson of experience?
“There’s going to be times where the emotions are going to definitely get higher than you’re used to and you have to handle it,” said Gallagher.
That means relaxing and settling in.
“When you leave the rink it’s important to block it out and move on, and come to the rink the next day for a fresh start,” he said. “I’m like anyone else, you go over a couple of things in your head, a couple of things you could have changed, but then it’s on to the next one . . . you’ve got to be a pro and move on.”
He was also asked whether anything was said by the team’s leaders after the game – it’s no accident most of the people who came out wear letters on their jerseys – Gallagher said “everyone understands what’s going on.”
“Enough was said in this locker room to know what position we’re in, this is a chance to learn about our group . . . times like this you’re going to look for excuses or doubts in your mind, or you’re going to look for positives, look for belief. That’s what character is and we have a chance to show it,” he said.
As he wrapped up with a small knot of reporters, Price re-entered the room to face a huge scrum; he spoke for just over a minute, and stuck to platitudes.
“I think everybody knows exactly what needs to be done,” he said.
With that, the dressing room was empty, a few moments later Julien stepped up to the lectern in the windowless coach’s conference room at arena level (visiting coaches go first, a relieved and jocular Alain Vigneault had wrapped up moments earlier).
Julien has struck a positive tone for these playoffs, and he is not easily ruffled.
Though he was plainly dischuffed at the outcome, he reiterated his full confidence that his team has the resources to win the series.
Then he added a little barb: “In order to get through this, we’re going to need more from a lot of guys. It’s going to be time for certain players to elevate their game and have that confidence and that desire to be better, and there’s no doubt when you lose a game and you’re down 3-2 you can’t be satisfied as a team.”
No guesses as to who he meant.Report Typo/Error