Habs’ ‘piñatas’ pushing back against Rangers
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.”