GREENBURGH, N.Y - Anthony Duclair idolized a lot of Montreal Canadiens when he was growing up. Well, let's say when he was a youngster. At 19, Duclair is still growing up.
One of his favorites was Saku Koivu, the Finnish center who was captain of Les Habitants for 10 years. On Saturday night, when the Rangers (4-3 and winners of three straight) visit Bell Centre and Duclair plays his first NHL game near his hometown of Pointe-Claire, Quebec, a lot of memories will come streaming back.
"I'm looking to pass first and shoot second," Duclair said Friday, "and he was a great playmaker in that sense. Any time you watch NHL players growing up, you try to model your game after your favorite players."
And Bell Centre should be jumping. "Just the atmosphere is incredible," said Duclair, who recalled playing a pee-wee game there and watched Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Rangers and Canadiens from the stands last May. "The crowd there is unbelievable, we all know it. It'll be pretty loud playing against the Rangers."
Duclair, who has three assists, was a healthy scratch the previous two games but practiced on the right side of winger Carl Hagelin and center Dominic Moore on Friday.
Coach Alain Vigneault, a Quebec native, understands the experience of playing a first game in Montreal, which enters the game atop the Atlantic Division at 6-1. "[He] worked very hard the last week or 10 days and he's obviously going to be excited," Vigneault said of Duclair. "He's just got to go out and enjoy himself. I remember a long, long time ago, my first game at the [old] Forum. It was a great moment for myself, my family and friends. You've got a whole room of players who've grown up in Ontario and Quebec The kid's going to get a lot of advice. I'm sure he's going to handle it well. From what I've seen, he's asking all the right type of questions and getting feedback from players and coaches."
Vigneault acknowledged that the game should be a battle.
"Without a doubt, because of our playoff competition, there's an intense rivalry, and probably a form of dislike," said Vigneault, referring to the collision with Chris Kreider that knocked Montreal goaltender Carey Price out of the series and Brandon Prust's hit that broke Derek Stepan's jaw.
Vigneault said he and Canadiens coach Michel Therrien, who verbally sparred, have "turned the page" and talked numerous times: "It's all good.''