MONTREAL — With the season on the line, there was no way he would fade into the background. P.K. Subban made sure of that.
First the Montreal Canadiens defenceman made headlines — suggesting Tampa goalie Ben Bishop had been “sitting on a horseshoe” — and then he backed it up with the kind of performance we’ve come to expect from him in the playoffs.
Give the man a stage and he’ll perform.
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Subban was incredulous following Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the Lightning when asked if he was ever concerned that his uncensored assessment of Bishop’s play would become bulletin board material in the other dressing room.
“Well address it,” he said. “I’m on the ice, so someone can address it. You’ve got a problem with me saying that, address it. I’m here, I’m not hiding from anybody. All I said was he’s played some good hockey in this series, but he’s had some luck.
“Hey, Carey’s had some luck too.”
The Canadiens have come to life in this second-round series and their best players can be thanked for the shot of adrenaline. Carey Price snatched a goal off Valtteri Filppula’s stick in Game 5 — lunging twice to narrowly get a glove on the puck — before Subban made an all-world play to set up P.A. Parenteau for the winner.
About the only thing the Norris Trophy finalist has failed to do in this series is find the back of the net.
That, more than anything, is likely behind his continued willingness to discuss Bishop’s performance. Subban rang a shot off the crossbar during a second-period power play on Saturday and later added that he expects the Lightning goaltender to play “a lot better” in Game 6 on Tuesday night.
“How do you think I feel? I’ve wound up twice and hit the bar on him,” said Subban. “He’s a great goaltender but sometimes you need some luck.”
What’s been most interesting about this Montreal-Tampa matchup is how the script has been flipped from the regular season. The Lightning dominated possession while winning all five games during the year, but have seen the Habs come out on top of the shot clock in every game this series.
Montreal has also struck iron nine times through five games — perhaps Bishop’s size and the lack of available net is a factor — and feels like it should be leading 3-2 rather than trailing.
Subban is the engine that drives this offence and was at his most dangerous in Game 5 with a man advantage. The Canadiens have scored just two power-play goals so far in the post-season but feel they are close to a breakthrough after several near-misses.
“I was starting to get sick of hearing ‘ding, ding, ding,”‘ coach Michel Therrien said of the shots off the post. “But our power play, in our eyes, was very good. It gave us momentum. We could have scored, we could have hurt them, but we need to keep going in the same direction.”
We’ve reached a big moment for Subban, Price and the other core members of the team.
Playing under 24 Stanley Cup banners at the Bell Centre, this is a group desperate to carve out its own place in history. Never before has Montreal won a series after falling behind 3-0, but these players have a chance to author that unlikely comeback tale now.
At least they’ll have last year’s run to the Eastern Conference final to draw back on — Subban was a force then, too — and are feeling confident after finding a way to disrupt Tampa’s dangerous attack in this series.
“When we’re playing our system the way we want to, we should be forcing turnovers,” said Subban. “When we are forcing turnovers there’s not a team in this league I think can play with us.”
A bold statement. But at least we know that one of the NHL’s most dynamic players will have no trouble standing behind those words.