P.K. Subban’s return to Montreal was a night to be remembered

P.K. Subban got emotional after a tribute from the Canadiens, with the Bell Centre crowd on their feet to welcome back the Predators star.

MONTREAL — For a minute and 25 seconds before Thursday’s game between the Nashville Predators and Montreal Canadiens got underway at the Bell Centre, it felt as though time stood still.

A video paid tribute to P.K. Subban, who backed off the blue line—helmet in hand—and tilted his head up towards the scoreboard above centre ice as he was serenaded with chants of his name. "P.K.! P.K.! P.K!" was belted out by almost every one of the 21,273 fans in attendance while tears flowed—some of them from the defencemen’s eyes.

It was something to behold.

"I wasn’t really sure how I was going to feel, but I’ve played a lot of hockey games in this building and a lot of great things happened in this building and in this city while I was here," Subban said after playing his first game for the visiting side, after six seasons of service in the home uniform. "All those memories come back, whether it was stuff to do with the hospital or kids, family, teammates, whatever it is, hockey games, emotional games, and I felt that I shared that with all the fans and the community here and I guess that’s how it all came out."

And then the game—which finished 2-1 Montreal—began.

There was Subban opposite Shea Weber, whom he had been traded for 245 days prior. There he was on the first shift, throwing one of his five body checks on the night, planting his shoulder into former teammate Max Pacioretty’s chest.

Several moments later, he took the puck behind the net and appeared poised to start on one of his patented rushes.

Instead Subban was hounded by Canadiens forechecker and former Predator Alexander Radulov, who forced him out in front of the net and had him loop back around and twist away before neatly passing the puck out of harm’s way.

It was with 1:35 remaining in the first period that Subban set up at the right point on the power play and pushed a pass over to Ryan Ellis, who fired it into the top-left corner of the net to put the Predators up 1-0.

The crowd erupted, first with cheers…and then with something different.

"It was great," said Subban. "That’s the first time I’ve ever been booed at the Bell Centre. I enjoyed that."

Subban was soaking it in. He was doing his thing.

So was Weber.

The subdued giant patrolling Montreal’s blue line had had his moment in Nashville on Jan. 3rd. Weber was a factor on both goals in that 2-1 win, doing his best to stifle his emotions when the Predators—with whom he had spent the first 11 years of his career—paid tribute to him on their scoreboard.

On this night Weber played 22:22, shutting down the league’s hottest player in Filip Forsberg, notching three punishing hits and blocking three shots—including one from Subban.

There Weber was, right in the middle of the action, in the closing seconds of regulation, moments after Brendan Gallagher had tied the game 1-1 with his first goal in 11 games and just his second in his last 25. The puck was whipping its way around the Canadiens’ zone, bouncing from Predator to Predator until Paul Byron stripped it off Roman Josi’s stick, pushed it well ahead of him and caught up to it in the offensive zone before trickling a shot through Pekka Rinne’s legs with only nine seconds left.

It was assumed the cheers for Subban before the game would be the loudest ones heard at the Bell Centre all night, but the building was practically shaking after Byron’s shot crossed the line.

It was a crushing blow to Subban, to Josi, and to the Predators. They had scored 48 goals in 13 February games and had their sights set on being able to deliver a win in a low-scoring affair if forced to.

"We gotta learn from it and know that we can’t score five or six goals every night," said defenceman Mattias Ekholm, who partnered with Subban for the game—just as he has since Jan. 20, when Subban returned from a 16-game absence due to a bulging disc in his back.

Canadiens goaltender Carey Price had his influence on the game as well—the least of which had anything to do with him playfully squirting water from his bottle into Subban’s face during a television timeout. He made 24 saves, including two show-stoppers on Kevin Fiala, and he improved to 4-2-0 with a .947 save percentage since Claude Julien took over as coach from Michel Therrien on Feb. 14.

Speaking of Julien, he was certainly touched by the video tribute paid to the former Canadien.

"To be honest with you, when I saw the I started watching it and the first thing that came to my mind was: this is a classy organization and I’m proud to be part of this classy organization," said Julien. "The way they did it, they did it well. That’s what ran through my mind.

"P.K.’s done a great job in the community—and for this team—in the past, and this organization made sure to showcase that. And the fans were great to him and everything else, and the best part of it [was] at the end of the night we end up with two points."

Most importantly to Julien and the Canadiens, they’ve now won four straight. It’s not how Subban would’ve drawn it up, but it’s a night he—and everyone else in attendance—will always remember.

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