When Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin was asked after practice Wednesday morning in Brossard which team he preferred to play in the Eastern Conference semifinal series — the Detroit Red Wings or Tampa Bay Lightning — his answer was predictable.
“I don’t have a preference, I really don’t to be honest with you,” Bergevin told reporters, noting that the Red Wings and Lightning are both “very good, fast teams.”
The GM added: “Whoever comes out of it, that’s who we’ll play. If our goal is to move forward we can’t pick and choose who we’re going to play. It’s going to be hard, but I have confidence whoever we play we have a chance to win.”
Well, now we know that the Canadiens will be playing Tampa Bay.
The Lightning advanced to the conference semifinal after beating the Red Wings 2-0 Wednesday night in Tampa in Game 7 of their conference quarter-final series. The teams went into the third period tied 0-0 before Braydon Coburn opened the scoring for the Lightning at the 3:58 mark. Anton Stralman added an empty-net goal at 18:42 with an assist from goalie Ben Bishop, who made 31 saves for the shutout.
The Canadiens swept Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs last year, but the Lightning won all five games against Montreal this season (4-0-1) while outscoring the Habs 21-8. The Canadiens had a 4-0-0 record against the Red Wings this season.
“The (regular season) results really don’t matter at this time,” the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos told reporters in Tampa after Game 7. “(The Canadiens) played solid in their first round. We found a way to get it done. Two good teams. I don’t think we worry about anything that happened in the past. Focus on the present and what we have to do.”
Lightning goalie Bishop, who was sidelined for last year’s playoffs because of an injury, has a 10-1-2 lifetime record against the Canadiens.
Here’s the schedule for the Canadiens-Lightning series:
Friday, May 1: Tampa Bay @ Montreal, 7 p.m.
Sunday, May 3: Tampa Bay @ Montreal, 6 p.m.
Wednesday, May 6: Montreal @ Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.
Thursday, May 7: Montreal @ Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.
*Saturday, May 9: Tampa Bay @ Montreal, TBD
*Tuesday, May 12: Montreal @ Tampa Bay, TBD
*Thursday, May 14: Tampa Bay @ Montreal, TBD
In a rare public appearance Wednesday, addressing the media in Brossard, here are some of the other questions Canadiens GM Bergevin answered:
• On beating the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference quarter-final:
“We beat a team that, since February, was 23-3-3, so if you think about it this was the hottest team coming into the playoffs. Based on those six games, they played very well. We beat a very good hockey team, a team that even when you’re up 3-0 on them, they’re not dead and they showed that a lot this season. I think it shows that we have a lot of character to beat that team.
“I’m not sure — and I don’t have this conversation with other general managers — but I’m not sure there were too many teams that wanted to play the Ottawa Senators in the first round.
“Ottawa is a fast team with a lot of talent, but they’re a very physical team, too. I think if you look at our series against the Boston Bruins last year — a bruising, tough series that we won in seven games — I think that helped us a lot in the Ottawa series. We learned a lot from Boston and it helped us deal with a fast, hard-hitting team.”
• On the Canadiens’ offensive struggles:
“My mentality, and I’m very firm on this, is you’re going to win games with good defence. I won’t change that. We’d certainly like to add scoring to the team, but not at the cost of our defence. We’ll always try to improve our offence but, as you know, nothing is free. Would I sacrifice Carey Price for a 50-goal scorer? No, that’s inconceivable.
“The best scorers come at a price. They don’t generally move, they’re hard to get, maybe the best way to get (a 50-goal scorer) is to draft and develop one. But again, when you’re successful you become a victim of your success, drafting 26th, 27th, 24th overall when the scorers are drafted early.
“I’m very comfortable with our defensive identity… I saw a statistic recently that said teams that spend the most of defencemen are the teams that make it to the playoffs more often than not.”
• On defenceman Nathan Beaulieu’s injury — which will sideline him for at least the first four games of the conference semifinal series — and Bergevin’s refusal to divulge specific information on player’s health status:
“To protect the player, you hide things. You don’t want the player becoming a target later in the playoffs. This is nothing new. When teams get eliminated (from the playoffs), that’s when you get a better idea of who was hurt and how badly they were hurt.
“I’m not on a power trip; we’re just trying to protect our player. It could be a concussion, it could not be a concussion, you don’t know and I do … If I could tell you and it would stay between us, I would but I can’t and it doesn’t help us. I don’t want (the other teams) to know what the injury is.”
• On head injuries and potentially revising the NHL’s concussion protocol: “There’s a protocol, but if we have to sideline a player every time there’s a hit to the head — and you’ve seen what happens in the playoffs — there’d be 10 guys in the quiet room on each team. Punches after the whistle, you see those left and right, hits to the head happen on every play. It’s just that if there’s a sign that a guy has a concussion, if there’s a sign that he’s shaken up, we’ll take him out.”
• On his reputation as being a hands-on general manager:
“You have to be yourself, if you try to be someone you’re not, the players will pick up on it. When I played in the NHL, I was on a team where the head coach was a real taskmaster and the assistant coach was a nice guy, he was what you might call the ‘good cop.’
“Then our coach got fired and the assistant coach was in charge. He tried to become the bad cop, the tough coach, but we know that wasn’t him. The players felt that and it didn’t work out.
“I can’t be someone I’m not — which isn’t to say that I’m always with the players — but I feel like there are some moments where I can speak to them honestly and encourage them. Sometimes, you need to be told the truth, not in a bad way, you need to hear it like it is while being encouraged. I’ll never change, the day it doesn’t work out with me, someone will take my place because I won’t change.”
With files from Montreal Gazette’s Christopher Curtis
(Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)