MONTREAL — The “C” that Max Pacioretty wears so proudly on his Canadiens sweater took on different symbolism in the past couple of days. It stood for more than the traditional meaning, “captain.” After Game 4 at Madison Square Garden Tuesday, it could accurately have signaled “chagrined” or “criticized,” with an emphasis on the latter.
In this sport in this city, when a hockey star does not perform up to peak level at the most important time, he can expect to see this description, which appeared in the local French-language press on Thursday: “Centre d’attention.”
As much of a nice story that it is in New York to reflect on his childhood in New Canaan, Connecticut, as a Rangers fan, there is a harsher reality that he faces great pressure in this city, where hockey is “Roi,” that is, king.
So it was no surprise that after the Canadiens’ leading regular-season goal-scorer with 35 had totaled only one assist in the first four games of the Stanley Cup playoff series against the Rangers that the front page of Le Journal de Montreal yesterday read, “Que Fait Pacioretty?” or roughly “What Does Pacioretty Do?”
The situation was compounded by the fact he did not tie up Ryan McDonagh when the latter had the puck Tuesday, just before McDonagh passed to Rick Nash for the deciding goal in the Rangers’ 2-1 win. Pacioretty admitted afterward that it was not his best game.
It still was a topic after the Canadiens’ practice in Montreal Wednesday. Coach Claude Julien said, “Mistakes happen and I’m not going to base anyone’s performance on one play.” There was speculation that Pacioretty might have been injured when he was taken hard into the boards in Game 1, but no words on that came from the player or his team.
They realize that no one makes excuses during the playoffs. You regroup, put it behind you and look to be better in the next game, which is how the former Rangers fan approached Game 5 here at Bell Centre Thursday night.
Intense pressure is the other edge of the phenomenal support the Canadiens receive in a city that revolves around its NHL team.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who is from here and who coached here, said before the game, “It’s a great environment. It’s fun to be part of. That’s what playoff hockey is all about. That’s why we’re in this. It’s the competition, the battle out there. Players love it and fans love it also.”
They love it more sometimes than others.