TAMPA, Fla. – He laughed at the question.
“How many times have I been cut?” asked Dale Weise, Montreal’s rugged winger, in the dressing room after his overtime winner in Game 1 on Wednesday.
“Junior or pro?”
How about both?
“Total?” Weise said, “Two in junior, three in pro …
“Four in pro.”
You know it’s playoff hockey when a guy deemed unworthy of having a jersey by four organizations owns a moment in the spotlight. And there's no bigger moment than playoff overtime, and no better time for your first playoff goal. Weise, 25, was drafted 111th overall by the Rangers in 2008, and that was his third year eligible. On Wednesday he slammed a shot past Lightning goalie Anders Lindback late in the first overtime and turned a sloppy Montreal performance into a 5-4 postseason masterpiece.
[Related: Daniel Briere shows off playoff savvy on OT winner]
Weise stood in his white socks at his stall after the game, sweat dappled on his brow and cameras gathered around him. One reporter outside the Canadiens’ room asked how to pronounce his name, and he wasn’t the only one wondering. Weise spent three seasons in Swift Current, Sask., and then three seasons in Hartford, where he played for the AHL’s Wolf Pack and the Whale, which happen to be the same team under a different name.
“No one can question my work ethic,” Weise said, crediting his parents in his best hour as a pro.
Standing only a few feet away was teammate Daniel Briere, flush from another display of his postseason savant. Briere has averaged more than a point per playoff game over his long career, which is something of a wonder, considering it seems so many playoff games don’t average much more than a point. It’s clear Briere has been here before, whereas Weise has been everywhere before.
“It’s the best feeling, playoff overtime,” said Briere with a knowing grin. “I just saw Dale out of the corner of my eye, and he seemed alone.”
Briere’s gaze then darted to his right as he spoke, over at Weise, just as it did on the ice, when he found the Winnipeg native stationed by himself at the doorstep of victory. “I won’t miss too many from there,” cracked Weise, which is kind of funny because he has 133 career shots. Briere has 110 career points in the playoffs.
[Watch: Dale Weise rips home Game 1 overtime winner]
Their collaboration, both on the ice and in the dressing room, began another NHL postseason series when things gathered through several hours become overshadowed by an instant.
We gathered that Steven Stamkos is going to be a major issue for the Canadiens and perhaps some other teams. His end-to-end rush and far-side wrister on Montreal goalie Carey Price in the second period was so lovely that a scribe in the press box yelled “Holy [expletive]!” as Stamkos celebrated. The Lightning’s biggest star had another goal later in the game and threatened to make it three in overtime. Hobbled by a scary midseason injury or not, he’s the best player in this series.
We gathered that Thomas Vanek will keep the Habs in every game. His scoring touch is delicate to the point of being sly, and he’ll keep getting lost in scrums until the puck finds him. The Austrian, who spent nearly a decade in Buffalo before landing in Montreal last month via trade (via the Islanders), suddenly has a chance to be a national hero in another country.
[Pass or Fail: Fan takes selfie during Habs-Bolts scrum]
We gathered that the Lightning could really use Ben Bishop. Backup goalie Lindback wasn’t bad on Wednesday, but his defense gave up 44 shots to Montreal and that won’t work in the playoffs no matter how unstoppable Stamkos is. Bishop’s name was flashed on the ice in the pregame introductions, getting a huge roar from the tanned home crowd here, but a much bigger roar will fill the rink if the injured starter actually surfaces on the ice in this series.
We gathered that Price might just be clutch enough to win a gold medal and a Stanley Cup in the same year. He didn’t shine Wednesday, but a breakaway save on Nate Thompson in overtime reminded everyone that he’s excelled under pressure before. Recently.
Most of all, we gathered that this series will be wild. There are combustible scorers on both teams, and not the most iron-clad of defenses. Game 1 was breathless beyond the usual breathlessness at this time of year, and it should stay that way no matter how much coaches and players promise to button things up.
These teams are even in talent, but players like Briere and Vanek and Brian Gionta have the kind of poise that lasts at this time of year. Stamkos is as fast as they come, but those Canadiens will slow the game down when it matters most. It happened Wednesday.
“It’s not an easy thing,” Briere said. “It’s a roller coaster of emotions. You have to stay composed, stay focused.”
The playoff savant did it again Wednesday, seeing someone out of the corner of his eye that nobody saw much in for years.
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