Dominique Ducharme insisted it wasn’t gamesmanship, but we all know it was — especially after Jeff Petry confirmed on Thursday that he knew he was going to play Game 2 of this Stanley Cup Semifinals series between his Montreal Canadiens and the Vegas Golden Knights before he even took the ice for the morning skate.
This is the fun of playoffs, where general managers, coaches, players, trainers, social media managers and anyone who’s anyone will do anything to win. Ducharme said before the Canadiens departed Vegas for Montreal, tied 1-1 with the Golden Knights, that the medical staff needed to be consulted after Wednesday’s warmup, even if things looked promising for Petry and his injured right hand at practice earlier in the day.
"He was confident he was going to play," Ducharme said. "We needed to talk to the doctors, we needed to have the green light and after the morning skate they wanted to make sure everything was fine after warmup. So, there’s no game there.
"Jeff wanted to play if he could Game 1, but you gotta also work with the medical staff and making sure that he cannot injure himself more or make it worse. So, there are a lot of things. It was not playing a game; it was just making sure that everything was fine and was cleared by everyone, and that was what we needed to do."
If having Petry take just one or two weak wristers and not participate in rushes during warmup before having the team’s official Twitter account blast out a lineup that didn’t include his name wasn’t playing a game, we don’t know what is. Consider Ducharme not willingly conceding it as not wanting to rub salt in the wound.
He was as thrilled as anyone the Canadiens opened one up to get back in this series with the 3-2 win at T-Mobile Arena after dropping Game 1 by a score of 4-1, and doubly so with Petry’s contribution of one goal, two shots on net, two blocks and a plus-1 rating in just under 21 minutes after having missed two games and 10 days because he had reportedly dislocated two fingers in Game 3 of Montreal’s second-round series against the Winnipeg Jets.
"He’s an important player for us on both sides," Ducharme said after the win. "The way he defends, the way he moves, the way he moves the puck is really good. And he’s a gamer. Every time you get in the critical moments, the big games, you see him at his best."
We saw Petry with blood in his eyes, which he confirmed was related to his hand injury.
"I won't go further on that," Petry said. "The kids were at school one night when I came home, and my wife gave them a warning and they came in and didn't want to look at me and decided that I would be the villain and they would be the superheroes and we started playing. That got them to relax and feel a little bit more comfortable now."
His wife, Julie, confirmed on Instagram during Wednesday’s game that Petry wasn’t experiencing any pain or vision impairment from the blood vessels that broke last week.
We doubt it was the same regarding his hand, with his fingers taped together and jammed into a customized gauntlet so he could be protected and feel capable of contributing to a standard he deemed acceptable.
"Pat, our trainer, he's an equipment engineer," Petry said. "You tell him what you need, and you tell him what you want, and he'll find a way to get it done. It took him no time to get that done, and we played around with a couple different minor tweaks, but we got it where I was comfortable with holding the stick with enough padding to protect everything. I've got to give him props for coming up with this so quickly."
We wonder what other innovations Mr. Langlois, who’s been with the organization since 1987, has come up with throughout these playoffs. Petry isn’t the only Canadiens player pushing through an injury he probably wouldn’t be playing with during the regular season, and we would think Langlois has been busy providing extra protection for the others.
Captain Shea Weber is probably a beneficiary of Langlois’ handy work. He played for two weeks with a damaged left thumb before missing the final eight games of the season. He could barely grip a stick before the playoffs began, but he’s tied with partner Ben Chiarot in leading all remaining players in average time on ice with 25:24.
Weber has inspired everyone. Especially Petry.
"He's a guy that's battled through injuries the last couple years, and to see the competitiveness and his wanting to be on the ice – there's guys on our team, others teams that are dealing with injuries and this is the time of year it's important to get out there and play through it if you're able," Petry said. "It's obviously the biggest time of the year, so I wanted to do everything in my power to get back and to get back as quickly as I could."
So did Canadiens defenceman Jon Merrill, who suffered an upper-body injury in Game 5 of the opening-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs and returned for Game 2 against Vegas to play just under 13 minutes.
It’s doubtful he’s 100 per cent, but he gave that much to help the Canadiens secure home-ice advantage going back to the Bell Centre.
"At this time of year everyone is sacrificing their bodies," said the former Golden Knight. "And it definitely creates an intensity and a will to want to do whatever it takes to win for sure.
"This team is dedicated, has bought in and is together right now. Really happy with a big win last night and it'll be a fun plane ride home today and look to build on that going into Game 3."
We’ll see if Ducharme and the Canadiens have any more tricks up their sleeves before it gets underway.