Newer Habs getting small taste of atmosphere in Montreal during NHL playoffs

Montreal's Bell Centre is famous for its electric atmosphere during NHL games, a vibe that gets ratcheted up even more when the Canadiens are in the playoffs.

For more than a few players on Montreal's roster, however, it's something they have yet to experience. Montreal spent the 2020 playoff season playing out of a controlled environment in Toronto due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Bell Centre was closed off to fans this season with the novel coronavirus still spreading across Canada.

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A long playoff run is giving some of the newer Habs a taste of the Montreal experience they may have previously only heard about from veterans like Carey Price, Jeff Petry and Brendan Gallagher.

Quebec has been gradually easing its COVID-19 restrictions over the past two weeks, including the lifting of a curfew in Montreal and the return of small crowds of around 2,500 to the Bell Centre that started in Game 6 of the Canadiens' first-round series with Toronto.

"It's been awesome the past month, finally getting to experience what Montreal's all about, and I've loved it so far," said defenceman Joel Edmundson, who signed a four-year, US$14-million contract with the Canadiens in September after being acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes.

"We've been locked up for the most part of the year so I didn't get to really experience it, but now that the weather's nice and we've moved to the orange zone it's been nice.

"Just go for walks and take it all in. It's a beautiful city."

Edmundson, who is from Brandon, Man., said he got to see his parents when Montreal started its second-round series in Winnipeg. He said the visit, along with the Canadiens' playoff run, helped keep his father Bob in good spirits as he battles lung cancer.

"Just to see them in person, it was awesome," Edmundson said. "It lifted my spirits, it lifted his, and whenever I get the chance to see them, it's awesome.

"They're tuned in to every game. They've got the whole city buzzing around the Habs right now. They just got their second (COVID-19 vaccine) dose, so hopefully they can come out here soon."

Price has been in excellent form in the Canadiens' net and was a major part of Montreal's seven-game win over Toronto in the first round and its sweep of Winnipeg in the second. But his teammates have played well in front of him, particularly defensively.

Edmundson, who was part of the St. Louis Blues' Stanley Cup-winning team in the 2018-19 season, sees parallels between the two clubs.

"Both teams just try to frustrate the other team by playing good defensively," he said. "Block shots, keep it tight in the D-zone, and it frustrates other teams like you saw in the past two series."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2021.

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