TORONTO — Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien had been waiting for a phone call to update Rene Bourque’s condition and when it came Tuesday, it wasn’t good news.
It seems that Bourque, who has missed the past two games with flu-like symptoms, is suffering from a concussion.
“I was shocked this morning when I heard the news because this weekend when we heard he wasn’t feeling right, we thought it was just a cold,” Therrien said after the Canadiens went through a workout in preparation for Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs (7:30 p.m., TSN, RDS, TSN-690 Radio).
“The week went on and he had some tests and this morning we found out it’s a concussion, so it’s tough news for us,” Therrien said. “I have no idea when it happened and I don’t think he knows either. Sometimes, a player gets hit, they don’t know when, but they start feeling the symptoms a week or two later.
“It’s disappointing because he’s played well since the beginning of the year,” Therrien added. “He’s an important player. For sure, we’ll miss him but it gives an opportunity to another guy. We’ve been using Brandon Prust with (Brian) Gionta and (Tomas) Plekanec, and Prusty has been playing well for us.”
Bourque is the second Canadien to suffer a concussion. Brendan Gallagher took a hit to the head in the Feb. 16 game against Philadelphia and missed three games. In Gallagher’s case, he reported that he was symptom-free the day after the blow and he breezed through the NHL protocol for a return. At first glance, Bourque’s injury appears more serious.
There was speculation that the injury may have resulted from a right hand thrown by Toronto’s Colton Orr the last time the Canadiens and the Leafs met on Feb. 9 at the Bell Centre.
The Leafs won that game 6-0 in what the Canadiens acknowledge to be their worst game of the season. The Leafs also beat the Canadiens 4-1 in the season opener, which was the team’s second-worst performance.
The Feb. 9 game deteriorated into a goon show which included a charge that Mikhail Grabovski bit Max Pacioretty and a counter-charge that Pacioretty stuck his fingers in Grabovski’s eyes.
“I think everybody remembers what happened, but both teams will do whatever they can to get two points,” Prust said. “The most important thing is to win the hockey game.”
Prust said the one-sided loss helped the Canadiens focus on playing better. Since that game, they have a 6-0-2 record.
“I think it was a wake-up call,” Prust said. “We have to learn from that. You can’t come out flat. We have to be more ready. They came out hard against us and we have to be sharp, be ready for a battle.”
One encouraging sign for the Canadiens is the way they have started in their recent games. In each of their last six games, the Canadiens have limited the opposition to five or fewer shots in the first period.
While the Leafs hold a 2-0 edge over the Canadiens with both wins coming at the Bell Centre, defenceman Josh Gorges said the Canadiens don’t believe the Leafs have their number.
“We had one bad game, those things happen,” Gorges said. “You don’t want them to happen but they do. We’re not going to think this is a team we can’t play against. We have to put those losses out of our minds. We’ve been playing our best hockey since then.”
Both teams are holding playoff spots in the Eastern Conference after missing the playoffs last spring. The last time both teams made the playoffs was in 2004.
“It’s great for hockey,” Gorges said. “This is perhaps the most storied rivalry in hockey. When you have two teams that are good teams, it makes for good hockey. When we play the Leafs, the games are always hard-fought and tight, close-checking, even if one team is playing well and the other team is in last place. But to have two teams that are playing well, it adds a little bit more.”
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