'We mean business,' Habs GM Marc Bergevin is ready for Vegas
BROSSARD, QUE. -- Marc Bergevin has every reason to smile these days.
The Montreal Canadiens general manager assembled a team that is making a deep playoff run and is now preparing to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup semifinals.
But while Bergevin is happy with the team's success so far, he says he's not yet satisfied.
"There's a lot of enthusiasm in the city right now, but we can't forget that we're only halfway to our goal," Bergevin said on a video call Saturday before the team departed for Las Vegas. "There's still a lot of work to do."
The Habs GM had said at the start of the season that his group was not to be taken lightly.
"We mean business," he had said.
The Canadiens won seven of their first 10 games and the players seemed to confirm Bergevin's statement. Three months later, following the NHL trade deadline, Bergevin admitted his team was sometimes difficult to pin down.
Ups and downs forced the general manager to make several changes. He fired head coach Claude Julien and associate coach Kirk Muller, as well as goalie coach Stephane Waite a few days later.
Bergevin also sought reinforcements on the ice, acquiring Eric Staal, Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson.
The Canadiens finally secured their playoff spot with only one game remaining in the regular season. The team then found itself with its back against the wall, trailing 3-1 in the first-round playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Habs have not lost since then.
"You want to win as many games as possible during the regular season, but there are periods of growth in a team, periods where adversity creates character, where you get a thicker skin. That's where we are now," Bergevin said.
"Vegas had a very good season, and now we're both at the same point today, despite two different trajectories."
Bergevin's confidence before the start of the campaign could be attributed to his acquisitions in the fall: five players who had already won a Stanley Cup.
If the general manager's confidence was ever shaken early in the series against Toronto, the players ultimately validated him by stringing together seven wins without ever trailing to reach the Stanley Cup semifinals.
"The guys we brought in, sometimes it does work, sometimes it doesn't work," said Bergevin. "But we knew we were bringing guys with character. Like I mentioned to our team in our first meeting in Toronto before the season started, these guys who won Stanley Cups were not brought in here by accident, but by design. I think it's paying off now.
"We have some young kids but we have some strong leadership that have been through the battles of winning a Stanley Cup.
"The message I believe they told the guys, and I've lived it myself, it doesn't mean you go to the Conference Final or the Stanley Cup final that you'll automatically be back a year or two from now. It's a privilege to be where we are today and it takes a long time sometimes to be in the position we are today. So seize the moment and make the best of it."
The Canadiens are underdogs against a Golden Knights team that amassed 23 more points than the Habs in the regular season. But at this point, Bergevin feels that doesn't mean a whole lot anymore.
Interim head coach Dominique Ducharme says injured forward Jake Evans is progressing and will travel with the team to Vegas for the start of the Stanley Cup semifinals.
Evans suffered a concussion on June 2 when he was levelled by Winnipeg Jets centre Mark Scheifele in the final moments of Montreal's 5-3 win in the second-round series opener.
Scheifele was handed a four-game suspension for the crushing blow and the Canadiens swept the Jets to advance to the semifinals, where they'll face the Golden Knights starting Monday.
Ducharme says Evans skated on Friday and Saturday, and could be three or four days away from returning from the injury, but the team wants to make sure he's 100 per cent healthy before putting him back in the lineup.
Evans, 25, has a goal and an assist in four playoff games this season.
Ducharme says injured defencemen Jeff Petry and Jon Merrill will also make the trip to Vegas.
BUDWEISER GOAL LIGHT COMING TO MONTREAL
To celebrate the Habs being crowned kings of the North, Budweiser will deliver its iconic 20-foot gaol light to downtown Montreal Saturday afternoon.
The light will blaze every time a Habs player's shot hits the back of Marc-Andre Fleury's net.
The light will be installed at 3 p.m. in front of Complexe Desjardins on Sainte-Catherine St. West.
-- with files from CTV News Montreal.