Thursday, November 23, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Small additions help Canadiens in big way

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Marc Bergevin's reaction after the Canadiens' win Wednesday was nothing short of amusing. So much so that rumor has it he's changing his name to Disco Marc.

With a broad grin, the Canadiens GM waved his arms around and shuffled his feet like he was on a dance floor, celebrating Dale Weise's winning goal in style.

Seconds later the TV showed a face of marble from his Lightning counterpart, Steve Yzerman. Two pictures that summed up all you needed to know about this first meeting.

No, it wasn't just another game. The Stanley Cup playoffs were officially under way.

No matter what player had scored his team's overtime goal, Bergevin would have reacted the same. But he must have been especially pleased to see Weise do it. The success confirms a theory he's a big believer in: the small parts theory.

Recently, in Bergevin's office at the Canadiens' training complex, I brought up the deadline trade that saw the Canadiens get Thomas Vanek, a terrific forward.

"He has helped us a lot," Bergevin said. "And I understand that because of his offensive abilities, people focus on him. But we also brought in two other players before the trade deadline: Dale Weise, who gives us size and speed, and Mike Weaver, who always plays hard and brings depth to our defense.

"When I was with the Chicago Blackhawks, Rick Dudley taught me something: It's often bringing in small parts that improves your team. You're meeting specific needs, and at the end of the day, it all adds up to a big part."

After hanging up his skates, Bergevin got a job with the Blackhawks organization. Dudley, a former Lightning GM, was working for the team. He passed on a few tricks of the trade. So it was no surprise that when Bergevin was appointed Canadiens GM in May 2012, he asked Dudley to be his assistant. The two have worked together ever since.

In Montreal, only diehard hockey fans and card collectors knew Weise when the Canadiens picked him up from Vancouver. The relative anonymity helped the newcomer ease his way onto the new team. Public expectation was negligible.

But then Weise suddenly found himself all alone in front of Anders Lindback's net in Wednesday's overtime. He instinctively shot high, where the Lightning goalie seems less sure of himself. And he won the game for his team. Not bad for a 25-year-old from Winnipeg who's not used to the limelight.

As I watched his teammates throw themselves into his arms, I thought about what Lightning coach Jon Cooper said earlier this week about lesser-known players stepping up in the playoffs to become heroes.

Nobody thought Weise would be that player in Game 1. But that's the beauty of hockey.

Would the Canadiens have won without the recent additions? I don't think so. No other team improved as much between early February and the trade deadline a month later.

Weaver, despite his error on Steven Stamkos' second goal, did a good job. Vanek played inspired hockey and was one of the Canadiens' best players.

Weise, Weaver and Vanek are three parts, big and small, that strengthened a Canadiens team with the playoffs right around the corner. The first two have met specific needs, and the third is a genuine star.

So are the Canadiens bound for glory? … It's best to keep their feet on the ground.

The Lightning will be well-prepared for tonight's Game 2. … A first win is always encouraging, but Bergevin, just like Yzerman, knows that winning a fourth game is the real test.

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