The Canadiens weren't kidding themselves about how desperate a situation they were facing. They just knew that desperation has brought out the best in teams, such as the Rangers. For one Montreal player, that meant the 1994 Rangers.
Max Pacioretty, the native of New Canaan, Connecticut, who has emerged as Montreal's most valuable forward in the playoffs, was inspired by that team. So much so that he was one of the most enthusiastic Canadiens at the optional morning skate Thursday morning at the Garden with his team down 2-0 in the series. There was nothing optional about it for him.
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"I didn't want to get off the ice," he said when he got back to the locker room and began answering questions about his youth as a Rangers fan (he was thrilled to have played at the Garden as a seventh-grader).
He was reminded that 20 years ago Saturday, the Rangers were in the conference finals and in more dire circumstances than his team was Thursday. The Rangers were one game away from elimination by the Devils, only to have captain Mark Messier guarantee a victory in the next game.
"I remember when it was said. Even back home, everyone was talking about it. I remember my dad telling me about it," said Pacioretty, 25. "I was obviously nervous for him, when it was said and everybody made a big deal about it. But it's amazing that a guy like him, they could bring him in to win a Cup and that's exactly what he did, and that's why he's one of the great players."
There were no guarantees Thursday night, not with Montreal again starting rookie Dustin Tokarski in net. Coach Michel Therrien reiterated his argument for having started him in Game 2: "We understand that with the loss of Carey Price, we put the young kid in a tough spot. But you look at his background and he's a winner, and that was the number one priority for us."
The Canadiens sure did not do much to lighten the pressure on the kid. They were outshot 14-4 and outscored 1-0 in the first period Thursday night, with the one goal coming off a two-on-one.
Among the very few in the Garden who had mixed feelings about that were Pacioretty's friends, who are loyal to him but who mostly work in the city and are Rangers fans. "It's amazing the way life works," said Pacioretty, who has been at the center of just about anything good that has happened lately for the Canadiens -- such as the shot Andrei Markov whipped past Henrik Lundqvist to tie the score at 3:21 of the second, off Pacioretty's expert feed.
His play was a sign that they weren't giving up, as the Rangers didn't when they were down 3-1 against the Penguins. Pacioretty's teammate and former Ranger Dale Weise said before the game, "We're a desperate team right now. With that said, we're not panicking."