Subban settling in on Canadiens' blue line

MONTREAL -- Even the Montreal Canadiens forget defenseman P.K. Subban still is a baby-faced novice when it comes to this NHL hockey stuff.

Subban, all of 21, had two games of NHL experience this regular season, called up for back-to-back games just before the Olympic break. But that did not deter Montreal coach Jacques Martin from dropping the precocious rookie into the lineup with the season on the line in an elimination Game 6 against Washington in the first round.

Now, just a dozen games later, Subban is a fixture in Montreal's defensive rotation. In his first postseason game he saw spot duty, playing 10:02. Thursday, in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, he played more than 18 minutes. He is averaging almost 21 minutes a game, second among the team's defensemen, behind only Josh Gorges.

That is a stunning coming-out party by anyone's standards.

"I think when you first see him, because you are not sure what to expect -- especially with the situation he jumps in at -- everyone was a little taken aback, a little shocked at how he could step in and the things he could do for our team," Gorges told "Obviously now, a few games in, you come to expect it. You come to expect him to contribute like anyone else.

"We have faith that he can go out there and play and put in good minutes. No one is looking at him as a rookie anymore. We're looking at him as another one of the guys on the team that is going to help us win hockey games."

Thursday night, Subban certainly helped the Canadiens win a game it needed to have. Facing a 2-0 series hole after going 0-for-Philadelphia in back-to-back shutout losses, Montreal could not afford to lose Game 3.

And, Subban was a big part of why they didn't.

He assisted on the game-opening goal by Michael Cammalleri, getting a point shot through the defense to start a mad scramble that ended when Cammalleri roofed a loose puck over sprawled Flyers goalie Michael Leighton.

Subban also earned a primary assist on a power-play goal by Marc-Andre Bergeron in the game's dying seconds and had a secondary assist on Brian Gionta's breakaway goal early in the third period that gave Montreal a 4-0 lead.

After struggling mightily in the first two games of this Eastern Conference Finals -- he was a minus-3 and looked intimidated and unsure in the face of Philadelphia's relentless forecheck -- Subban once again was the game-changer that already has made him a fan favorite. He was a plus-3 in Game 3, second-best to the plus-4 put up by defense partner Roman Hamrlik, who was on the ice for Montreal's first four goals.

Hamrlik, a grizzled veteran who once lived the same young superstar life now being enjoyed by Subban, has helped the youngster find his way this postseason.

"There are so many things to learn from guys like that," Subban said, smoothly adding Montreal's other veteran defenseman into the equation. "It's been great for me."

And, Hamrlik already sees the tutoring paying off in Subban's on-ice performance.

"I try to help him; we talk on the bench or between periods," Hamrlik said. "He's a young kid and he's going to have a long future in front of him. It's nice to watch him play and to play with him. It's a good feeling."

Subban's future glories, though, can wait. Right now, he has more important stuff to worry about.

"The focus now is on the team, not so much on me," said Subban. "It's about us in here, about what we need to do. In the long run, it's better off if that's where my focus is, and that's where it's been. All the guys are focused on the process of us winning and moving on."

Despite the success he had in Game 3, Subban knows the journey forward will not be easy for himself or the Canadiens. Yet, he is prepared to navigate that treacherous path this spring for as long as the hockey gods allow.

"As you get closer to the championship, it gets a lot tougher obviously, and especially when you get down to four teams, it's tough. It's a grind," Subban said. "I'm just enjoying it. Right now, there's not another group of 22 or 25 guys that I would rather be playing in the conference final with. It's amazing. It's a lot of fun and there is still a lot of hockey to be played."

With level-headed sanity like that coming from Subban, it's no wonder the Canadiens forget the rookie defenseman still is, indeed, a baby-faced novice when it comes to this Stanley Cup Playoffs thing.