PHILADELPHIA - A year ago Patrice Brisebois would have never dreamed he'd be enjoying a playoff run right now, let alone with the Montreal Canadiens.
"One year ago I was in my bed, I couldn't even walk after my second back surgery," Brisebois said Wednesday after the pre-game skate at Wachovia Center. "Now I'm still playing, we're in the playoffs, I scored a big goal against Boston in the first round - all those things are really amazing. And hopefully there's more to come."
Brisebois, who returned to the lineup Wednesday night after missing two games with a leg injury, is taking the time to smell the roses. He thought his career might be over and instead joined up with a surprising Canadiens team that won its first conference title since 1989.
"I've had a blast this season," said Brisebois. "I still love the game and I still love to compete. ... After my second back surgery I wondered whether it was over and whether I should be moving on to something else.
"But then I said at the time, 'You know what? I'm only 36. I love the game. Hockey is my life.' I see a guy like Chris Chelios or Teppo Numminen, those guys stay in shape and they still make a difference. They're good skaters and good passers.
"But I think everything starts from the heart and the passion for your sport."
His second tour of duty with the Canadiens has been enjoyable, free of the stress that came with being a marked man by the fans earlier this decade. He was booed mercilessly every time he touched the puck in those years, in part because he was among the team's highest-paid players and the fans didn't feel like he earning his keep.
He left for Colorado after the lockout, seemingly for good. But strangely enough, despite the abuse he took from fans in his first tour of duty, the Montreal native agreed to come home last summer after GM Bob Gainey made him a US$700,000, one-year offer.
"Some people thought I was nuts to come back after what happened," said Brisebois. "But you know what? I have so much respect for Bob and when he called me, I didn't hesitate. I have family and friends in Montreal. And I know I still have some good hockey left in my body."
Then came a surprise. He got an ovation from the Habs faithful during the players' introductions in the home opener last October.
"I always say, there's nothing you can do about the past but you can definitely do something about the future," said Brisebois, the last active player on Montreal's roster from the 1993 Cup champion team. "I'm a guy who will always be positive. What happened in the past is the past. For sure that first game this year when I got that ovation, that was a big, big, big relief."
The fans' immediate affection for him allowed Brisebois to focus on playing like he can and not worry about making mistakes. He was limited to 43 games, putting up 11 points (3-11). But Gainey and head coach Guy Carbonneau were clear with him when he signed - he was going to be a role player, a veteran that would sit out some nights but be expected to provide leadership for the many young players on the roster.
"It was maybe a little hard mentally to be a healthy scratch but I knew when I signed here last summer that it was going to be like that," said Brisebois. "When you see the team have so much success you want to be part of it every night. And Carbo wanted to play the young kids, they wanted to give them as much experience as possible, which makes sense."
Brisebois, who carried five playoff points (1-4) in eight games into Wednesday's Game 4, says he'd like to return for another season.
"Sure, sure, if they're happy about my work," he said. "Sometimes a leader isn't just on the ice. In the room with the kids I'm pretty sure I'm doing a good job. I just try to be a good professional and show those kids how it works and do the right things on and off the ice."