MONTREAL — So, the smoothest road to the 2014 Sochi Olympics for Canadiens goalie Carey Price and defenceman P.K. Subban became clear at noon on Tuesday, precisely 100 days before the opening ceremony in Russia.
“If they play bad tonight,” Dallas Stars head coach Lindy Ruff said, a grin working at the corners of his mouth, “I’ll give them a chance. I’ll give them a real good look.”
Ruff, an assistant coach on Canada’s Sochi staff, was pulling legs — though a dismal effort by Price and Subban against his Stars at the Bell Centre Tuesday night would have been most welcome.
Alas, the two Canadiens were not dismal talents, Montreal beating Ruff’s Stars 2-1.
Price made 26 saves to earn his sixth win of the season, while Subban had two shots, five aimed at the net, blocked two and was minus-1 in his 25:09, the second-busiest player on the ice behind teammate Andrei Markov.
“Obviously, we’re keeping an eye on all the (Sochi) possibilities,” Ruff said before the game.
“And P.K. and Carey are a big part of that.”
Ruff has made, what he says, is a comfortable transition to Dallas after 16 seasons and 1,266 regular-season and playoff games in Buffalo, having been sacked by the Sabres 17 games into last season’s lockout-abbreviated campaign.
On Monday, he made his return to Buffalo behind the visitors’ bench, his Stars grinding out a 4-3 victory.
“It was nice to get back, but even nicer to get through that one and get out of town,” Ruff said Tuesday at the Bell Centre before his club would face the Canadiens.
During the first TV timeout at First Niagara Center, a minute-long video of Ruff’s playing, then coaching career in Buffalo was screened on the scoreboard, fans rising from their seats to cheer and wave signs of affection at the man who left town with a 571-432-162 record.
Ruff said he didn’t watch the tribute, his emotions too near the surface, but said he had “a lot of great playing and coaching memories. It’ll be easier going back now.”
Ruff led the Sabres to Eastern Conference Final in 2006 and ’07, then for the next five years directed a club that never got off a downhill slope, greased by the July 2007 departures of free agents Daniel Brière and Chris Drury.
The Sabres have not won a playoff round since.
Ruff held court with Buffalo media before Monday’s game, exiting the stage with, “Thank you, great seeing y’all,” chuckling with another “y’all” almost under his breath.
“There’s been some other words that have been more common, but there have been a few ‘y’alls,’ ” Ruff joked Tuesday of his new-found Texas twang.
After 16 years coaching the Sabres and a decade playing for them before that, crossed swords practically branded onto his skin, Ruff said there’s a friendly fine among Stars coaches should he stumble into a Buffalo frame of mind — though he’s not been nicked yet.
“I’ve tried to avoid any talk about the former team, but I’ve slipped up the odd time,” he said. “Sometimes when you’re looking up stats, I turn to the wrong page.”
Ruff admitted he still pulls for the Sabres, “but not (Monday night),” he said with a laugh before the Stars’ win. “I can root in between games when they’re in the East. I root for the city and I root for the team. I want to see them do well.”
The Stars jumped out to a 4-1 lead Monday and hung on for a nail-biting victory, an almost perfect night all around in that Matt Moulson, acquired from the Islanders for Vanek, scored twice for the Sabres.
Where it’s common for a player who’s facing a former club to quietly put a pot of cash up for teammates, to be shared for a win, Ruff said there was no monetary incentive in Buffalo.
“The line from Caddyshack, ‘There’ll be no tip, but on your death bed you will receive total consciousness?’ ” he said, laughing again. “It was something like that.
“And they get an extra day off somewhere down the road. It’s a pretty good deal.”
There won’t be many days off this season for Ruff, not between his work with the Stars and role with Team Canada.
For now, he’s spending very little time on the Olympic portfolio, certainly less than head coach Mike Babcock of Detroit.
“It’s just being ready when we’re scheduled to have a call later on,” Ruff said of a talk to come with Babcock and the St. Louis Blues’ Ken Hitchcock, Ruff’s fellow assistant coach, all three returning from Canada’s Vancouver 2010 gold-medal effort.
“It’s watching the guys, taking game notes on how the players we’re considering are playing so that, if asked, you can put your two cents in.”
Ruff enthused about a “great” adjustment to his new life in Dallas.
“The fit with Jim has been awesome,” he said of GM Jim Nill. “Jim’s been terrific. And once you get behind the bench or on the ice for practice, hockey is hockey. I don’t look outside the Plexiglas and worry about hockey in Texas, I just look at hockey as being hockey.
“Somebody said change is good and I really believe that. How Jim built their team (in Detroit as GM of the Red Wings), the type of players, his really trying to get this team where we want it and how we want to play — I’m finding it a real good experience.
“It’s all new. I think sometimes that helps anybody.”
What won’t hurt Ruff will be for his squad to get on a bit of a roll.
The Stars having arrived in Montreal with a 5-5-1 record, second-last in the West.
“We’ve got to become a better team and, to a man, we know that,” he said. “(Tuesday) will be a night we have to go out and try to show it.”
It was Olympic hopefuls named Price and Subban who helped send the visitors home on the short end of the score, blissfully unaware that a poor performance was their better route to Sochi.
But Ruff was kidding. Wasn’t he?
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