A legend who 'adds so much' for Canadiens
BROSSARD, Quebec - They are here, they say, because of the wisdom and placidity of the guy who quit. Six times, the Canadiens' season might have ended; six times, they have extended it. They then dominated the Flyers in Game 3 on Thursday after the Flyers dominated them in Philadelphia in the first two playoff games.
BROSSARD, Quebec - They are here, they say, because of the wisdom and placidity of the guy who quit.
Six times, the Canadiens' season might have ended; six times, they have extended it. They then dominated the Flyers in Game 3 on Thursday after the Flyers dominated them in Philadelphia in the first two playoff games.
They enter Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final today thanks to adjustments and grit . . . and former general manager Bob Gainey.
Yes, he rebuilt the team the Flyers beat in the 2008 conference semifinals, but the Habs needed to scuffle to make the playoffs this season. In February, long before they made it, Gainey resigned. The club had been bounced in the first round in 2009 and was foundering again. Assistant GM Pierre Gauthier replaced him.
Gainey is a legend here. He is known as "Le Capitaine." He is a Hall of Fame forward who won five Stanley Cups as a Canadien, so, he hung around as a special adviser - that innocuous title that can carry no weight, or a ton.
Gainey is a heavyweight.
"He adds so much," said forward Mike Cammalleri after the Canadiens' practice at their suburban facility.
Cammalleri is one of the half-dozen free agents Gainey signed in the offseason makeover. With 13 goals in the playoffs, most of any player, it looks like a smart move now. Cammalleri considers Gainey a gold mine of knowledge, one more easily plumbed now that Gainey isn't calling the shots.
"Now, you can have candid conversations with him," Cammalleri said. "When it's player/general manager, there's a certain vocabulary you follow."
Sometimes, with Gainey, words are not even necessary. He consistently has declined interviews with the press, and he isn't exactly calling players in for meetings, either. He doesn't need to. He's just . . . there.
"When he walks into a room, you know it," said defenseman Hal Gill, another Gainey addition. "He has a presence. A calming effect. He handles himself very smoothly. There's no panic."
Why would there be from a man considered one of the world's greatest players during the rollicking 1970s; a man whose No. 23 hangs from the rafters at the Bell Centre; a man who has been player, coach and GM in the hottest crucible in sport.
As the regular season waned, Gainey's nearly invisible presence helped the Canadiens wrangle two wins and two overtime losses, the last OT point in the season finale, which helped them eke into the playoffs as a No. 8 seed. Gainey's shadow loomed as the Canadiens won three straight and won the quarterfinal series over top-seeded Washington, and again as the Canadiens won the last two games and beat defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh in the conference semifinals.
Now, as the Canadiens left Philly without a goal, much less a win, Gainey's assured demeanor settled the Habs. They got five goals, and the win, Thursday.
Canadiens coach Jacques Martin, also hired by Gainey after the Habs' 2009 first-round flop, was the first to credit his former boss.
"Bob Gainey . . . is very helpful," Martin said.
He knew Gainey might be. It was Gainey who, as GM, built the powerful Dallas Stars that won the Stanley Cup in 1999.
He took over the Canadiens in 2003. When Gainey stepped down in February, Martin, on the advice of a former Flyers coach, was eager to keep him around.
"I remember talking with Ken Hitchcock, and I remember Ken telling me how much a factor [Gainey] was when they won the Cup in Dallas," Martin said. "To me, that's why Bob's been around the team since we started the playoffs. He has a different outlook on games, brings different ideas. He's been a big help."
Even the stoic Martin needs support, it seems. His team sank and smothered the potent Caps and Pens, but that strategy didn't work in Game 1 against the Flyers; so, after a 6-0 shellacking, the Habs began to attack more. They lost, 3-0, in Game 2, but they crushed the Flyers from every angle Thursday.
They could feel change coming. They'd been in the pits before, had to adjust. Resilience now defines them.
"We've had enough practice," Martin said, giving a glimpse of his rare, dry humor.
Maybe Gainey even brings out the funny in Martin. *