Bob Gainey made a surprise visit with the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, and the Hall of Famer offered words of encouragement to his former team in its quest to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1993.
The message from the 67-year-old: keep the foot on the gas pedal and continue to get off to fast starts.
“Just watching what they’ve done to this point, they have done that in their previous series after getting off to a slow start early against Toronto,” Gainey told NHL.com in a phone interview. “Winning Game 1 can give you a real foothold on a series so that you know you’re not going to get on a slippery slope and be pushed out quickly.
“I just tried to find a message that was appropriate to where they are and what they’re doing in the playoffs.”
Since trailing the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 in their best-of-7 Stanley Cup First Round, the Canadiens have won seven consecutive games and have scored first in each one. They advanced to the Stanley Cup Semifinals with a 3-2 overtime win against the Winnipeg Jets Monday to complete a four-game sweep in their second-round series.
Montreal will play the Vegas Golden Knights or Colorado Avalanche in the semifinals. Vegas can advance with a victory in Game 6 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
If necessary, Game 7 would be at Colorado on Saturday, meaning the Canadiens would have gone at least a week between games.
Gainey told the Canadiens that preparation is key for a team when it has this much time between series. He pointed to the example of the Jets, who swept the Edmonton Oilers in four games in the first round and waited nine days for Game 1 of the second round.
“When a team has a layoff, well, I mean, they had a great lesson learned with the team they just eliminated,” Gainey said. “Winnipeg had a layoff, and it should be an advantage, it should be a positive. But it doesn’t always happen that way just because you think it should. And now Montreal is wearing that same coat, and they have the same terrain to go over.
“Now they have to try to make their start in their next series different from the way it worked out for Winnipeg.”
Gainey won the Stanley Cup five times (1976-79, 1986) during his 16-year NHL career (1973-89), all with Montreal. The forward was the captain from 1981-89 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992.
Gainey, who lives in the Peterborough area of Ontario, said he happened to be in Montreal this week when the possibility was brought up about addressing the team. Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher said coach Dominique Ducharme and general manager Marc Bergevin spearheaded the idea.
“It was really quick,” Gainey said. “I didn’t have a lot of background.”
Defenseman Erik Gustafsson thought otherwise.
“A lot of guys here, myself too, have not been in this position,” Gustafsson said. “To see [Gainey] coming in here and talking to us is huge. I got a lot of chills when he talked about the big games he played.”
Gallagher and goalie Carey Price are the only Canadiens players who remain with the team from the last time they won two postseason series in 2014. Montreal lost to the New York Rangers in six games in the Eastern Conference Final.
“He was able to speak on some things he went through in his career,” Gallagher said of Gainey. “And it was exactly about how important it was to start Game 1 and implement our style of play.”
Gallagher said Gainey was passionate when speaking to the players.
“Obviously we’re plenty motivated, didn’t need a ‘rah-rah’ speech,” he said. “But it’s just nice to hear from someone who’s been through this.”
Jeff Petry remains on schedule to return early in the semifinals but may not be ready for Game 1. The defenseman sustained an upper-body injury during the second period of a 5-1 victory in Game 3 against the Jets and did not play in Game 4.