Benoit Pouliot saw Canadiens collapse coming, sees promising postseason with Bruins
|04.10.12 at 2:03 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Benoit Pouliot‘s last postseason was a disaster. Bruins fans know that.
Though he set what was, at the time, a career-high 30 points for the Canadiens, Pouliot saw his minutes dwindle in the final games of the season before opening the playoffs as a fourth-liner. He didn’t do much in the three games he played in the first round against the Bruins — zero shots on goal and less than eight minutes a night — and the only notable thing he did was run Johnny Boychuk in the corner in Game 3, resulting in Andrew Ference, to quote Jack Edwards, attempting to “rip his head off.”
And that, to put it plainly, is where things ended for Benoit Pouliot and the Montreal Canadiens.
“After that hit, when I fought Andrew there, I knew,” Pouliot said in a chat with WEEI.com Tuesday. “Well, I didn’t know, but I didn’t play the rest of the game, and then after that he just didn’t put me back in. We were losing, 2-0, and I was trying to mix something up, but I guess he didn’t like it and I went and sat on the bench.”
The “he” to whom Pouliot referring is former Habs coach Jacques Martin. Pouliot has often spoken about the lack of confidence he felt Martin had in him, but the winger feels he’s in the right situation now.
“All year long, I didn’t have [many] breaks,” Pouliot said of his final season with the Habs. “I felt like they didn’t have confidence in me and didn’t put me in situations that I was good at. It was just kind of all negative stuff, and it kind of sucked actually.
“But now, this year the coach gave me some chances and I tried not to mess it up too much. If I did, well, I didn’t do it twice. You have some bad months, you have some good ones, but I think this year all things were good.”
Pouliot still seems to have a bad taste in his mouth when it comes to Montreal. He was traded to the Habs in the 2009-10 season, and though he had 15 goals in 39 games with Montreal, he never felt the fit was quite right.
This season, things appeared to get awfully toxic awfully fast in Montreal. After making the playoffs in the last four seasons (and going to the Eastern Conference finals two seasons ago), everything went wrong for the Habs this season. Martin was fired, Michael Cammalleri called out the team for having a “losing mentality” before getting shipped out of town and the team ended up selling off the likes of Hal Gill and Andrei Kostitsyn before finishing dead last in the Eastern Conference with 78 points. General manager Pierre Gauthier also lost his job.
“For a guy that’s been there two years, I had seen it coming,” Pouliot said. “I think some of the other guys there would say the same thing. Just the way everything unfolded, and the way things were not only around the city but the team and everything, it was tough. It wasn’t good. Now they’re cleaning up, which is good for them. Honestly, they needed to, and we’ll see what they do.”
Given everything that Pouliot saw as inevitable in Montreal, he views his unhappy ending with the Habs as a blessing of disguise. Pouliot says he “needed to get out of there,” and when Gauthier chose not to tender the restricted free agent, he happily hit the open market and took a deal with the Bruins.
“I loved the guys in Montreal, but obviously here we’ve got better chemistry,” he said. “The attitude, the way we approach the games and the way we are in the room. It’s just a big difference from what I was used to in Montreal.”
But enough about the Canadiens. Pouliot can look at his final games with Montreal and see that though he wasn’t out there much, the Bruins’ third line was. Michael Ryder and Chris Kelly were two of the heroes for the Bruins in that series, as their line with Rich Peverley brought the Bruins a series-tying victory in Game 4.
“They were clutch,” Pouliot said. “They came up with some big goals and [knocked] us out of the playoffs. After that, they kept going. That was nice. I watched the games, and those guys always had chances. They played well when they did, and they scored.”
Now, Pouliot finds himself on the very line that helped create matchup problems throughout the playoffs. Kelly remains in the middle, while Pouliot is on the left and Brian Rolston is on the right.
Though a veteran of 22 playoff games — 21 of which came with the Canadiens and often with limited minutes — Pouliot has only two postseason points (both assists) on his resume. Yet he sees what Julien let that third line do last postseason and sees a better opportunity for him to finally excel in the playoffs.
“Much better, because all year long I’ve played with the same players almost,” he said. “We got used to each other, and going into the playoffs, that’s what we need. For a third-liner, you’ve got to be good defensively, too. Sometimes they’ll match you up with some other guys, and you’ve got to be ready for it, but I think we played well both [ends] of the ice this year, and we’ll be fine.”
After a career-best 32 points (16 goals, 16 assists), Pouliot wants to be for the Bruins what their third-liners were a season ago. The B’s won the Cup with offensive depth, and after a nightmarish — and abbreviated — postseason last year, Pouliot wants more.
Postseason success isn’t all he wants. A restricted free agent at the end of this season, his feeling is much different than a year ago. He doesn’t sense any issues he felt existed in the Canadiens organization, and he wants to remain a Bruin.
“I’d love it,” he said. “I don’t bother with it. I let my agent do the work, but I want to be back here obviously. I think I’ve improved a lot, playing with the Bruins and the guys, and just the way they coach the game. [Julien] gives you chances, and you grab it. I feel very comfortable in Boston.”