MONTREAL – It didn’t take more than a minute for Paul Byron to realize what he needed to do.
The Montreal Canadiens winger scored the first goal of his Stanley Cup Playoff career as part of his team’s 4-3 overtime win in Game 2 of their series with the New York Rangers. It might not have happened if not for one significant adjustment he made following Montreal’s 2-0 loss in Game 1, which also happened to be his first-ever NHL playoff game.
“I knew it right after the game,” he said before Game 2. “I think I put a little too much pressure and energy into what playoffs is about. Sometimes going really fast in every direction isn’t really effective. You have to be in the right spots and just have to channel your energy the right way.”
Not that Byron was a lost cause in Game 1, he played his role on a buzz-saw line with Montreal’s pluckiest in Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher, working feverishly to get pucks turned over and to create chances off the rush, but it would be a stretch to say he worked as smartly as he had over a season that saw him shatter career-highs in goals (22) and assists (21).
“The energy in the Bell Centre for a playoff game is hard to explain,” he said. “I think it made me a little too excited at first. It just made me too eager, too ready. You learn a lot from your experience. You know what to expect after getting a game under your belt. Everyone talks about playoffs being different, but it’s just another hockey game, and you have to try not to take too much emotion from the fans and try to do what led to your success in the regular season.”
Consider Byron a quick study.
While teammates Artturi Lehkonen, Andreas Martinsen and Phillip Danault – who had also been playing in their first-ever playoff game on Wednesday – made subtle improvements in Friday’s Game 2, Byron’s progress was glaring. After he crashed through Henrik Lundqvist’s crease on his third shift of the game, after he hit the turbo button and left Rangers defenceman Dan Girardi in his dust to collect a lead-pass from Gallagher before pulling off a nifty forehand-backhand deke on the breakaway on his next shift, and after he set himself up in the slot and pulled the trigger on the shot that gave the Canadiens a 2-1 lead with 4:18 remaining in the first period the evidence was irrefutable.
“That’s the Paulie we know,” said Alexander Radulov, who had two assists and scored the overtime winner with 1:26 remaining in Friday’s game. “He’s so fast and has so much energy. He’s everywhere.”
If the Rangers didn’t know before the puck dropped in Wednesday’s game, they do now.
In this crash-and-bang series, which has seen a staggering 227 hits exchanged between two teams not known for that style of game, Byron, who’s generously listed at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, has been in a class of his own. He leads all players with 15 hits, throwing eight of his team’s 53 in Game 1 and seven of its 55 in Game 2.
The Ottawa native, who says he became a huge fan of the rough and tumble Anaheim Ducks when they Cinderella-storied their way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2003, understands the value of initiating contact in the playoffs.
“It’s one of those times where every hit matters,” said Byron. “I think no one likes getting hit, no one likes getting forechecked all night, and the more you do it, the more you do it, the more you do it – I just think they start to add up and add up. With my speed, my quickness, I think I can get in and hit those defence more than some guys.”
He can take them, too.
According to the play-by-play log, Byron absorbed five hits in Friday’s game—none of them more punishing than the one Nick Holden threw to put on him on his back with 11:31 remaining in the first period.
But the sixth-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2007, who was knocked around as a Calgary Flame from the day he arrived in 2011 to the day he was waived in 2015, bounced back up in a hurry.
He always has. You have to figure that’s a quality that will continue to serve him, and the Canadiens, well as these playoffs move along.