MONTREAL — It was the second intermission of the playoff opener Wednesday night, and P.K. Subban was standing outside the Montreal Canadiens’ dressing room. He had slashed the Ottawa Senators’ Mark Stone and received a major penalty and a game misconduct. He was in a suit, not his uniform.
Elise Beliveau, the widow of the late Jean Beliveau, came by as she often does. She sits in the family seats three rows behind the bench in Section 101 and retreats to a lounge underneath the stands at the Bell Centre.
“I know you’ll be better next game,” she told him.
Subban said he was worked up for Game 2 on Friday night and got even more worked up when he saw Mrs. Beliveau behind the glass. She rarely wears jerseys, and she stood up to show him she was wearing a jersey this time.
“I want to be better for her,” he said.
And so Subban played his best. He was the first star of a 3-2 overtime victory that gave the Canadiens a 2-0 series lead. He logged 29:06 of ice time. He attempted 13 shots. He scored a goal with a slapshot so wicked, it made the goaltender duck.
The Senators had to be sick. They wanted Subban suspended for injuring Stone, whose right wrist was so sore he couldn’t shoot. But NHL disciplinarian Stephane Quintal felt Subban had been punished enough by missing half of Game 1, and so here was Subban in full effect – the hero, the villain.
Subban is an electric talent, a strong personality and a maturing leader. He makes great plays. He makes bold statements. He makes his share of mistakes at age 25, too, but his respect and reverence for his team and the game are genuine.
After the slash, Subban hopped up and down, held out his hands, slumped his shoulders and stared at the rafters, as if he couldn’t believe Stone would collapse and the referee would make the call. When Stone returned to the game even before the major ended, Subban threw a tantrum outside the dressing room.
The next day, Subban said the slash wasn’t that hard and it was frustrating to see Stone return. But he also took responsibility for a dumb play – the Canadiens were already killing a penalty at the time, and the referee was right there – and said the ref made the right call. He said he felt he let his teammates down.
“I’m never afraid to call myself out,” Subban said. “When you’re a leader on a team, you want to hold everybody accountable, and you have to hold yourself accountable. I felt last game, I let my emotions get to me a little bit. Thank god I have great teammates, and they stepped up.”
Remember: Subban’s father, Karl, came to Canada from Jamaica. He became a Canadiens fan – a Jean Beliveau fan. Subban grew up a Canadiens fan even though he lived in Toronto and heard a lot about a certain Hall of Famer.
When Subban became a Canadien, he developed a relationship with the Beliveau family. He spoke to Helene Beliveau, the daughter of Jean and Elise Beliveau, about trying to see Jean Beliveau when he was in failing health. But Jean Beliveau died Dec. 2 at age 83 while the Canadiens were on a road trip.
Elise Beliveau sat next to an empty seat afterward.
“I remember the ceremony before the game when we honored Mr. Beliveau, and seeing her in the stands, it brings tears to your eyes,” Subban said. “I’m just very happy to be able to be a part of this organization while she’s here to celebrate him.”
The Canadiens continue to honor Jean Beliveau. His No. 4 is still painted behind each net. Before Games 1 and 2 of this series, the video board showed him holding the famous torch the Canadiens pass from generation to generation. He lit the flame virtually.
Jean Beliveau was known for class even more than his talent.
Which brings us back to the slash.
“I get choked when I see him on the videos,” Subban said. “That’s where the pride comes from. Part of my disappointment in last game is, you know …”
“I know it’s an emotional game. I didn’t think it was that hard of a slash. But to go through that whole thing, that’s not something that Mr. Beliveau would do. That’s the standard for everybody in the organization, to pattern themselves on and off the ice like he would. I wasn’t old enough to watch his career, but just to see the type of person he was and the gentleman he was, he respected all of his peers on and off the ice, and I try to do that.”
Subban got a chance to make it up to his team in the second period Friday night. The puck caromed off the right-wing boards inside the Ottawa blue line, and he raised his stick high above his head. He waited, waited, waited, timing it just right, and then – boom. Goaltender Andrew Hammond got out of the way more than he tried to make a save. The puck whizzed over his left shoulder and rattled around the back of the cage, and the Canadiens took a 2-1 lead.
“I try to shoot a little low usually,” Subban said. “And I just chose to shoot high that time, and I think it surprised him.”
Subban went down on one knee, drew back his right arm like an archer, beat his chest twice and then let out a primal scream. His defense partner, stoic Russian Andrei Markov, came over and gave him two kisses.
“If I had a girlfriend, she’d be jealous tonight,” said Subban with a smile.
This is what Subban wants to be. Often, this is what he is. He averages more goals per game in the playoffs (.244) than he does in the regular season (.155). He averages more points per game in the playoffs (.733) than he does in the regular season (.620). He doesn’t want to let anyone down.
Game 1 was a lesson, and motivation.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a player that wants to step up in big games and make a difference,” Subban said. “I always feel that the more pressure people put on me, the better I’m going to play. I play for my teammates, though. I wanted to be better for them today.”
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