PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The Montreal Canadiens wanted to allow prospect P.K. Subban to spend a full season in the minors before making the jump to the show, but injuries and other circumstances forced them to call up the exciting defenceman in the playoffs.
In a big Game 2 road victory Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh, Subban showed just how ready he was for this type of challenge.
Playing his fourth career playoff game and only his sixth NHL game of any kind, Subban stepped into a void left by the absence of Andrei Markov and shone in a 3-1 Canadiens win that allowed them to steal home-ice advantage away from the Penguins.
"I just try to be confident," the 20-year-old Toronto native said. "I haven't played in the NHL all year, so I just try to do everything with confidence. Hopefully it helps the team."
It helped his team immensely Sunday as Subban spent more than 23 minutes on the ice, displaying his flair and poise with the puck nearly every time he touched it.
The Canadiens have often looked lost without the puck-moving presence of Markov, posting a 14-20-3 record this season without their top defenceman. But Subban's play on Sunday lessened the blow of losing Markov to a lower body injury in Game 1, one that will keep him out of uniform indefinitely.
The biggest criticism of Subban's game was that he wasn't ready to play in his own end without the puck at the NHL level. But he played just over half of the six minutes of power-play time the Penguins enjoyed in the third period while Montreal was clinging to a one-goal lead and did not look the least bit out of place.
"He's confident in what he can do and he's not shy to do it," said Canadiens defenceman Hal Gill, who actually played one minute fewer on the penalty kill than Subban did. "There's a lot of guys that have that ability, but they get in a situation like the playoffs and they slow down. He's great in that he goes out and plays his game, that's what we need from him."
It was a heads-up one-timer from the point by Subban that led to Michael Cammalleri's second period power-play goal that gave the Canadiens a 2-1 lead, giving Subban a goal and two assists in four playoff games. The rookie even got into a little fencing match with Penguins star Evgeni Malkin prior to a faceoff in the second period.
But Subban - who defensive partner Roman Hamrlik called "cocky" on Saturday - did not want to talk about his very impressive performance after the game.
"I'm not going to focus on myself right now," Subban said. "This is the playoffs and it's about the team. If they ask me to fill the water bottles, I'll fill the water bottles."
After Subban was picked 43rd overall in the 2007 NHL draft, he went up to former general manager Bob Gainey and said he was going to make the Canadiens happy they drafted him.
Just short of three years later, Subban is making good on that promise.