Habs’ ‘piñatas’ push­ing back against Rangers

Montreal Gazette - - SPORTS - STU COWAN

Pound-for-pound, Paul By­ron might be the tough­est player on the Cana­di­ens’ team.

The 5-foot-9, 160-pounder was lead­ing the team in play­off hits with 17 head­ing into Game 5 of the Eastern Con­fer­ence quar­ter­fi­nal against the New York Rangers Thurs­day night in what has been a very phys­i­cal se­ries.

By­ron ranked 14th in the NHL in play­off hits through Wed­nes­day’s games.

“I love it,” By­ron said about the phys­i­cal play af­ter Thurs­day’s morn­ing skate. “This is what hockey’s all about.

“We knew it was go­ing to be phys­i­cal com­ing into the se­ries,” added By­ron, who grew up in Ot­tawa play­ing hockey, rugby and lacrosse.

“Ev­ery team wants to step their game up and try to pun­ish the other team. It goes both ways, so it’s a lot of fun to play in.”

The sec­ond-tough­est player on the Cana­di­ens, pound-for-pound, is prob­a­bly Bren­dan Gal­lagher. The 5-foot-9, 182-pounder played like a crash-test dummy through the first four games, dish­ing out eight hits and tak­ing prob­a­bly 10 times that many while crash­ing the crease and be­ing a pain in the you-know-where.

“I’m just try­ing to play my game, com­pete hard and be around the net,” Gal­lagher said. “Ob­vi­ously, they’re try­ing to do their job of pro­tect­ing their goalie.

“I don’t go into any game try­ing to piss some­one off,” he added with a smile. “It just comes with the ter­ri­tory.”

One of the prob­lems with the Cana­di­ens is that their small guys play big, while their big guys of­ten play small.

Max Pa­cioretty, who is 6-foot2 and 215 pounds, had only nine hits in the first four games, while Dwight King, a 6-foot-4, 229-pounder, had no hits in 11:21 of ice time dur­ing a 2-1 loss in Game 4.

Pa­cioretty is paid to score, but King is sup­posed to be a fourth­line grinder.

Alexan­der Radulov is also paid to score, but the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder had 14 hits through four games, tied with Steve Ott for sec­ond on the Cana­di­ens.

By­ron was asked if the fact he is so small but plays so big might ir­ri­tate op­po­nents even more than get­ting hit by a big­ger guy.

“I have no idea,” he re­sponded. “I think with my speed I’m able to hit guys who maybe nor­mally aren’t hit too of­ten. Maybe they don’t like that. But you’d have to ask them, I don’t know.”

By­ron laughed af­ter say­ing that. Gal­lagher also likes to laugh and smile while get­ting beaten like a piñata by the op­po­si­tion, which must drive the Rangers to dis­trac­tion.

“I hon­estly don’t say that much on the ice,” Gal­lagher said with that in­no­cent-look­ing smile. “I kind of let peo­ple talk to me and just laugh it off.

“Ot­ter’s the one who’s pretty funny out there. He’s got some pretty funny one-lin­ers. I just kind of lis­ten in and en­joy it. That’s not re­ally for me.”

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