MONTREAL -- For the previous two seasons, veteran Hal Gill teamed with a relative unknown to form the top defensive paring for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Rob Scuderi became quite well known for his work with Gill during the course of two runs to the Stanley Cup Final and earned a four-year contract with the Los Angeles Kings this past summer.
Gill also changed teams, joining the Montreal Canadiens, and his new defense partner, Josh Gorges, quickly is becoming a Scuderi-esque breakout player in this postseason for his work at his own end of the ice.
"He's the kind of guy who does whatever you need to get done. If you say, 'Go get under a guy's skin,' he'll go do it. If you say, 'Block a shot,' he'll block it with his head if necessary. It doesn't matter. He's a guy who gets things done and it is nice to play with a guy like that." -- Hal Gill on Josh Gorges"As a group, we've done a great job of rising to the occasion and rising to the challenge, and everyone has done that," Gorges said. "I don't think you can say one guy has done it more than another. We all know what is at stake and we're all buying into what we need to do to be successful and I am just one of the guys following suit."
Gorges and Gill have spent most of this season playing together, and they have evolved into coach Jacques Martin's shut-down defense pair. During the early games in Montreal's first-round series against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, Martin didn't bother to match defensemen against the two-time League MVP, but as the series wore on, Gorges and Gill became the designated Ovechkin stoppers.
Ovechkin finished the series with 5 goals and 10 points, but he was not his typical dominant self in several of the games and had only 1 goal and 1 assist in the final three contests as Montreal rallied.
While other key defensemen (Andrei Markov, Jaroslav Spacek) have been lost to injury, Gorges and Gill have been a steady presence for Martin to lean on.
"I think from the start of the year we've had a great relationship off the ice," Gorges said of his veteran partner. "We communicate real well and we've become good friends and I think that relates on the ice. The situations always change on the ice, and to be able to talk it out and sort it out during the play and then on the bench -- I think we can read off each other well and it makes it easy to play together."
The duo have a new, but equally difficult, assignment in their second-round series -- Sidney Crosby, the 2007 MVP and a finalist again this season after collecting 51 goals and 109 points in the regular season, and he had a stellar start to the postseason, with 5 goals and 14 points in six games in the first round against Ottawa. Crosby played very well in Game 1, but much of the damage for the Pittsburgh Penguins came on the power play.
Gorges and Gill were back to their stout defensive work in Game 2, keeping Crosby off the score sheet and helping the Canadiens to a 3-1 victory.
"I think the biggest thing is we've been up on our gaps," Gorges said. "Our forwards have done a great job of coming back and helping out. You can't keep your gap and stay in their face if there is no back pressure. Not only that, when our forwards are coming back they are pushing them into us. They don't have any room to curl back or stop up. It forces them into us and then we can use our sticks and make plays. It is not just me and Hal -- the forwards are doing a great job as well."
While Scuderi was a fifth-round pick, Gorges came from even more humble professional hockey beginnings. Gorges went undrafted as a junior with Kelowna of the Western Hockey League before he signed with the San Jose Sharks in 2002.
He didn't become an NHL regular until a trade from San Jose to Montreal, and his role steadily has increased during his three-plus seasons with the Canadiens. Still only 25, Gorges has benefited from his time with a veteran-laden Montreal blue-line corps.
"It is really good -- we've got (Gill) and other guys like (Roman) Hamrlik, Spacek -- even Markov -- guys who have been around for a long time. It is great as a young guy because you can step in and ask questions. You can also just watch them -- not so much when they step on the ice but how they prepare before they step on the ice. It is that calming influence. Sometimes you might get a little worked up or nervous before a big game but then you see how calm and relaxed they are, and it helps you calm down and just play your game."
Gorges may not have been a known commodity in other NHL cities besides this one before the start of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he's certainly becoming one in a hurry.
"Ever since I've been playing with him, he's been solid," Gill said. "He's the kind of guy who does whatever you need to get done. If you say, 'Go get under a guy's skin,' he'll go do it. If you say, 'Block a shot,' he'll block it with his head if necessary (Gorges blocked a Mike Green shot with his head Feb. 10 in a 6-5 victory against the Capitals). It doesn't matter. He's a guy who gets things done and it is nice to play with a guy like that."