BROSSARD, Quebec — By his standards, Jacques Martin’s latest new conference amounted to a stand-up comedy bit.
The Montreal Canadiens’ low-key coach held court at the team’s suburban practice facility Sunday, feeling sufficiently at ease to reveal his usually well-hidden sense of humor.
After all, the Canadiens returned from Boston with a 2-0 lead in their first-round playoff series after beating the Bruins twice at the TD Garden.
Was he thinking of sequestering his team, say in a hotel?
“Are you guys staying in a hotel?” said Martin, punctuating his playful exchange with a wink.
Asked about defenseman James Wisniewski’s fight with Boston’s Shane Hnidy, Martin said he liked what he saw before adding, “that’s not to say that we’re going to come out and try to play that game against them because we know what would be the result.”
Cue the howls of knowing laughter from those who recall Montreal’s 8-6 loss in Boston during the regular season, which saw the Canadiens beaten as much on the scoresheet as on the scorecard of virtually every bout in the fight-filled debacle.
OK, Jerry Seinfeld’s throne is not in danger. But, as Martin is wont to say, “it’s a process.”
In fact he is very fond of expressions like that one and words such as “system”, which he resorts to ad nauseaum, with no flair added to enliven the proceedings. Never one to be mistaken for the feisty likes of the Rangers’ John Tortorella or Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson, Martin has his Canadiens all-in with his playoff system, though.
“Right now he’s been pushing the right buttons and getting the right guys going,” rookie right wing Ryan White said. “Even the guys that come up throughout the year, they know what’s expected from them. It’s a system that you can play and something that you just need to buy into.”
It allowed Montreal to pull off stunning seven-game upsets over Washington and Pittsburgh last spring. The unexpected playoff run got the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference final, where they lost to Philadelphia in five.
Now, that same approach has Montreal off to a surprising 2-0 start following Saturday night’s 3-1 win in Boston, with the next two games at the Bell Centre.
Brian Gionta found himself right at home in Martin’s system after winning a Stanley Cup with New Jersey.
“It’s pretty similar,” said the Canadiens’ captain, who scored both of Montreal’s goals in Thursday night’s 2-0 series-opening win. “The Devils’ system got a bad rap for sitting back but it’s just making sure you’re responsible for that third guy. You don’t lose him, you don’t lose pinching (defenseman). You try to limit the turnover and the odd-man rushes.”
What’s going on in Boston right now is no laughing matter, what with the Red Sox off to their worst start since World War II.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Bruins have now lost six straight playoff games, including four in a row in their second-round loss to the Flyers last year after getting out to a 3-0 series lead.
“I mean it was tough the last few games,” left wing Milan Lucic said before the team traveled to Montreal. “Obviously they’ve been playing real well defensively and clogging up their defensive zone and the neutral zone. They’re making things really hard for us.”
With his tenure as Boston’s head coach likely hanging in the balance with the outcome of this series, Claude Julien has been feeling the heat as he deals with the sudden absence of team captain Zdeno Chara.
“When you’re down in the series like that and you’ve got to climb back up it definitely is a challenge of characters and will, desire, commitment, and everything else that goes with it,” Julien said. “We’ve got to roll up our sleeves here and go back to work. And we’re going back to work in another rink that hasn’t always been good to us. But we plan on making it a successful one.”
Chara took the pregame skate Saturday night after he was hospitalized overnight because of dehydration, but he did not dress for the game. Julien, who said Chara was sweating and dizzy after the warmup, confirmed that his All-Star defenseman would travel to Montreal but had no update on his condition.
“That’s basically all I’m going to say about that,” Julien said.
Monday night’s game will be the first between the teams in Montreal since Chara’s devastating hit on Max Pacioretty. The Canadiens’ left wing suffered a severe concussion and a broken neck vertebra in Montreal’s 4-1 win on Mar. 8 after the 6-foot-9, 255-pound Slovakian defenseman slammed him headfirst into a stanchion supporting a glass panel at the end of the visiting team’s bench.
Chara was given a major penalty and a game misconduct, but no supplementary discipline was assessed by the league. The outcry in Montreal led to an ongoing police investigation, though Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said he has been assured that Chara will not be questioned during the playoffs.
Martin had no news on Andrei Kostitsyn, who also did not play Saturday night. Kostitsyn was struck on the foot by a Chara slap shot early in Thursday night’s game and returned to finish the game.
As for dealing with any potential lineup changes Julien might envision for Monday night’s crucial third game, such as replacing All-Star goalie Tim Thomas with Tuukka Rask or inserting 19-year-old Tyler Seguin, Martin played it straight all the way.
“I think we’re playing a team that’s a tremendous hockey club that got over 100 points so I think that there are areas of our game that we need to be better and that’s our focus,” Martin said. “I can’t do anything about what Boston is going to do. Sure, you prepare in your mind different scenarios but the focus is really on our team.”