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Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Debate: Are the Habs French toast?

By Pierre LeBrun and Katie Strang

Do the Montreal Canadiens have enough left to rally against the New York Rangers? Pierre LeBrun and Katie Strang weigh in from Montreal.

LEBRUN: Katie, we are separated this morning as the Canadiens, as always, had their morning skate at their suburban practice facility in Brossard, Quebec, while the Rangers were at the Bell Centre. And, once again, nothing boring about either session. Where I was, in Brossard, there was quite the buzz after injured star goalie Carey Price took to the ice for about a half hour in full equipment with goalie coach Stephane Waite and head athletic therapist Graham Rynbend before his team's morning skate. Here's the video of it, courtesy of my friends at TSN.

Head coach Michel Therrien, however, quickly and sternly doused any hopes for Habs fans to see their favorite man back in action in the Eastern Conference finals.

"He's not going to play in that series," Therrien said. "He’s not going to play."

While speaking in French, Therrien made it just as clear.

"Our team realizes that when Carey was hurt, it meant he would not play in this series," he said. "There’s a process that’s in place for his return, but it won’t be in the coming days. We don’t want to be thinking about another series because we have a hell of a big game to play tonight."

Later, when he mentioned there was no way for Price to play in Game 5 or Game 6, I followed up in French and asked Therrien: What about Game 7?

"He's not playing in this series," Therrien responded again.

So unless this is all a smoke screen for the Rangers’ benefit, we have to take the Habs' coach at his word -- no Price comeback in this series.

Katie, while we were talking to Therrien, we saw your tweets coming out of the Bell Centre on Derek Stepan. What say you?

STRANG: I have to admit, dear Pierre, that I do hate when we are separated, but it's a worthy cause this morning with all the news and injury intrigue coming out of both rinks. Indeed, it was an interesting pregame skate for the Rangers, as top-line center Stepan emerged from the dressing room and took the ice wearing a big, honking facial protector affixed to his helmet. Stepan had suffered a broken jaw in Game 3 and had surgery afterward.

As I watched Stepan take line rushes, where he centered Chris Kreider and Rick Nash, he sure looked ready to play. But Rangers coach Alain Vigneault reasonably tempered the optimism over his return with a dose of caution.

Vigneault said the team will huddle with its medical staff Tuesday afternoon to gauge how Stepan reacted to practice, how he feels energywise (nutrition is a concern, remember, as he is on a soft-food diet right now), and whether he can play without further risk of exacerbating or aggravating the injury.

Essentially, the decision is out of Stepan's hands, as it should be, because we know the 23-year-old center has to be champing at the bit to get back in the lineup.

"The only way he's going to play tonight is if he gets full medical clearance," Vigneault said. "This is not going to be up to him. It's going to be up to our medical staff to make sure that they feel he can play. There's a lot of things that have to fall into place for him to play tonight."

If he can't go, the Rangers have a pair of Swedes -- Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast -- at their disposal, but I still sense that we will see Stepan play in Game 5 at the Bell Centre. This hasn't been mentioned often, but Stepan has been an iron man for the Rangers; Game 4 of this series was the first match he missed in his entire four-year tenure as a New York Ranger.

Assuming Stepan comes back, maybe that's just the boost the Rangers need to close out the series against what is sure to be a desperate Habs team hell-bent on keeping its Stanley Cup hopes alive. There has been a ton of talk in the past few days about the Rangers' not wanting to give Montreal any hope, not even one iota of belief. They know, in large part because they found themselves in Montreal's situation during the last round, that just one win can completely change the complexion of the series.

And the Habs are no stranger to that sort of dramatic turnaround, either, having accomplished the feat back in 2010, as you so astutely pointed out in your off-day blog Monday. What do you think? Can they muster that magic again?

LEBRUN: Katie, for what it’s worth, there was a pretty positive vibe around that Montreal team this morning.

Maybe it’s the knowledge they came back from 3-2 down to the best team in the conference and beat the Boston Bruins, but the Habs sounded very confident that this series was far from over.

"Honestly, I think this is where we play our best hockey,” Canadiens winger Dale Weise said this morning. "We saw that against Boston and we saw that in Game 3; I liked our game there. Nothing matters in the past, and we're only worried about coming out in the first period tonight and having a good start. I think we're excited in here as a group. I think our building's going to be rocking tonight. This is not an easy place to come and play."

Then Weise later added: "This is far from over. We've got to win three games in a row and that's obviously difficult, but it's not impossible. If any group can do it, I'm pretty positive this group is one that can do it."

Scoring first Tuesday night would help bring alive the loudest arena in the NHL. That’s certainly what the Habs hope to accomplish.

"This is obviously the best place in the world in the playoffs," Weise said. "The building's the loudest; it's exciting anywhere you go on the streets. You can feel the buzz. This is a fun group, and obviously we want to keep this thing going."

See you tonight at the Bell Centre, Katie!