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Postseason remains Gomez's time to shine

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BOSTON -- Scott Gomez had the worst production of his professional career this season.

Yet, when the Montreal Canadiens arrived here to begin the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the favored Boston Bruins, nobody in the visitors' camp would profess an ounce of worry about their No. 1 center.

 

Why? Because Gomez's postseason track record is too good.

 

Just 31, Gomez has already claimed two Stanley Cups and had 59 points in his past 61 postseason games heading into Thursday night's opener.

Well, now Gomez has 61 points in 62 postseason games after assisting on both Brian Gionta goals in Thursday's 2-0 victory at TD Garden.

"He is playing great and he is going to step up," Gionta said. "That is what we need, guys being at their best this time of year. It was what we expected out of him."

It may be what they expect of Gomez, but it is not what they got this regular season. Gomez failed to reach double-digits in goals for the first time in a career that started during the 1999-2000 season. His 38 points were 10 fewer than he had ever registered in a previous full season. Meanwhile, his minus-15 rating was by far his worst.

All in all, it made for a pretty miserable eight months for Gomez, as he absorbed the slings and arrows of the Montreal fans and media for underperforming.

But Jacques Martin, the Montreal coach, never gave up on Gomez.

He reminded the 31-year-old this week that the playoffs are the time during which Gomez's true worth can be best showcased.

"I talked to our team and you know in the playoffs your best players have to elevate their game," Martin said after Game 1. "I thought that our top players, Gionta and Gomez, elevated their game tonight."

And his teammates, as evidenced by Gionta's testimony, also believed the real Gomez was lurking somewhere just below the surface. They've heard the talk about Gomez being a playoff performer -- much of it uttered by Gomez himself -- and were hoping to see the proof.

It came faster than most of them expected, however.

"He wasn't joking with you guys when he said he is great in the playoffs," said Mathieu Darche, the other winger on Gomez's line. "He was great (in Game 1). Both times it was him causing the turnover. He made a good decision both times and gave it to the sniper on our line. Then Gio buried both of them. He played a great game tonight."

That the goals came directly off turnovers might be the most encouraging sign of all.

When Gomez is playing at the top of his game, it is a 200-foot game that he adopts, generating a good deal of his offensive production on the counter-attack.

That was the case Thursday night. On the first goal, he intercepted along the half wall an ill-considered reverse attempt by Tomas Kaberle and then fed Gionta for the goal that gave Montreal the all-important lead less than three minutes into the game. On the second, late in the game with Boston pressing for the equalizer, Gomez stripped Boston's Milan Lucic to spring Gionta for a breakaway goal.

After each goal the irrepressible smile that is usually as much a part of Gomez's on-ice demeanor was suddenly back, lighting up his face.

"I think, obviously, I have been waiting a long time for this day to come after the season I had," Gomez said. "I don't know how to explain it. This is the fun part of the year. This is when the whole hockey world is watching, all the kids, everything.

 

"I don't know how to explain it, but another year, and besides that it doesn't matter. That is what we are here with. This is a team effort. It is a team game. Whatever happened in the regular season, that is over. It doesn't matter."

Last season, Gomez saw teammate Michael Cammalleri put on a clinic in the postseason, virtually willing his team to heights greater than anyone expected by scoring big goal after big goal. Cammalleri finished with 13 goals and 19 points in 19 games.

Surely, Gomez remembers that run and has entertained thoughts of being that guy for the Canadiens this spring.

"I have always been about wins," Gomez said. "This is the time when, especially now, I am one of the older guys, and it is just a part of the game. It is part of life's lessons. I don't know if you get it now, I just … individual or whatever, it just doesn't matter to me. It is always fun to win.

"It was a team effort. If anything, I know my job is to get it to Gio. He is a goal scorer."

So what does Gomez have in store for Game 2? Smartly, he made no promises, saying the right things. After all, there is no need to taunt the hockey gods after the misery they put him through this season.

 

But just before he finished his media duties, Gomez did let a bit of bravado slip out when someone asked if he would get Darche going next game after working wonders for Gionta in Game 1.

"Well, Gio scored the two goals, so we will start with Gio and then we will work with Darche tomorrow. Like I said, it is whatever, the regular season is over. It is just one game," Gomez said.

"It starts all over tomorrow. We still have to make some adjustments. We still have to go over some stuff. And it gets harder, but it is good to get that first one on the road, and here we go."