When he’s not taking out his teammates as collateral damage, P.K. Subban seems to be inspiring them.
The Montreal Canadiens defenseman has taken his game to a higher level this spring, and the result is a 2-1 series lead in the second round of the NHL playoffs.
Setting the tone in a first period that saw him do everything but play goal—another starring role Carey Price has proven perfectly capable of handling for the Habs—Subban paced the Habs to a 4-2 victory at the Bell Centre to put the pressure back on the Boston Bruins as they head into Game 4 on Thursday night.
Subban started things off with a physical first period that energized the Canadiens and had the big bad Bruins on their heels. He showed his offensive smarts with a quick drop pass for Thomas Vanek on a pinch that led to Tomas Plekanec opening the scoring.
His next connection with Vanek wasn’t quite what he had in mind, taking out his teammate while launching himself at Bruins forward Reilly Smith and landing on Vanek instead, but that intensity and fearlessness is what makes Subban so dangerous right now. (Besides, Vanek only left the game temporarily).
Subban showed his offensive instincts immediately after exiting the penalty box following that hit to Smith, which landed him a questionable penalty call from the men in stripes, collecting a breakaway pass from Lars Eller and burying his opportunity on Tuukka Rask.
He exploded with emotion as he celebrated, winding up his teammates, who seem to believe more and more by the minute that they can beat the Bruins.
Subban became the first Habs defenseman since Larry Robinson in 1985 to put together a six-game point streak in the playoffs, and he’s racked up three goals and 11 points in that stretch.
In addition to the offense, he’s playing physical, defensively responsible, emotional and maybe most importantly, mature hockey at the age of 24.
“It’s very humbling,” he told the NHL Network in an interview after the game when informed of the accomplishment. “Whenever your name is in the same sentence as someone like Larry Robinson, it’s very flattering. Obviously I want to keep it going.
“It’s funny, good things happen when you’re focused on the right things. I’m focused on my team. “
There may have been no better example of his mature and responsible play than when he walked away from a trio of Bruins who goaded him after a whistle, giving him plenty of opportunity to take a poke and an unnecessary penalty he may have been unable to turn down a year ago, or maybe even a few months ago.
After seeing his ice time fluctuate during the regular season because of his inconsistency in his own zone, he played a game-high 27:50 Tuesday night.
That speaks volumes as to what head coach Michel Therrien thought of his play.
Price told CBC’s Scott Oake about Subban’s ability to channel his intensity in the right way after the game.
“He’s playing really good hockey. He seems to play his best when he’s fired up,” Price said. “He’s definitely brought a lot of emotion. He’s been able to control it. He’s been able to use it just the right way.”
Subban may be the leader, but he’s obviously not the only reason the Canadiens are leading the series and looking like a Stanley Cup contender at the moment.
Price was outstanding in goal again, making 26 saves.
Mike Weaver continues to cement his status as an underrated stay-at-home defender, blocking four shots and adding an assist on the winning goal in slightly more than 10 minutes of action.
Fourth-liner Dale Weiss scored his second goal of the playoffs, and once again it was a game-winner.
They’re getting contributions from all over the lineup. The Bruins’ best line was the trio of Carl Soderberg, Dan Paille and Loui Eriksson, which means the top line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla was not, once again.
Iginla scored his first of the series on a deflection late in the contest but managed just one shot on net. Lucic assisted on the goal and added two shots. Krejci had one shot to his credit.
All the Bruins stars have to be better.
The Canadiens’ marquee players are certainly doing their part and hope to cash in with a series victory and berth in the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins or New York Rangers.
Subban will no doubt also cash in this summer with a hefty new contract as a restricted free agent.
Steve Macfarlane has been covering the NHL for more than a decade, including seven seasons for the Calgary Sun. You can follow him on Twitter @MacfarlaneHKY.