MONTREAL -- It is a trio unlike any other in the NHL, and so far things have turned out exactly how Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin was hoping they would a little more than nine months ago.
But the real test starts now.
Goaltender Carey Price and defensemen Shea Weber and Andrei Markov, became a wall for the Canadiens over the latter stages of the regular season, ever since new coach Claude Julien decided to pair Weber with Markov on Feb. 25 and proceeded to feed them a heavy dose of the most skilled forwards in the League.
After taking two games to get accustomed to playing with each other, Weber and Markov had a stretch of 15 games from Feb. 28 to April 1 when they were on the ice for two of the Canadiens' goals against at 5-on-5.
It was a run for Weber and Markov that included games against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks and three games against the Ottawa Senators when they were matched consistently against defenseman Erik Karlsson and Ottawa's top line, centered by Kyle Turris.
"That's a part of the game [where] I enjoy and a challenge I look forward to every night," Weber said. "I usually get to go against some of the other team's best players and the goal is to shut them down and try and limit their offensive chances."
Weber doesn't do that without diligent preparation. He says he has kept a mental book on opposing forwards for years, but his database was focused on Western Conference players. After being traded from the Nashville Predators on June 29, he has spent this season shifting that focus to the Eastern Conference, and New York Rangers forwards can be sure Weber will be well-prepared to face them when their Eastern Conference First Round series begins at Bell Centre on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
"I've played against guys in the West for so long you know what a guy's going to do or is capable of doing," Weber said. "Now you've got to learn, especially with all the young guys coming too. I ask some of our younger guys what they know about this guy, maybe I've never seen him play or know anything about him. Just try and gain knowledge about different guys and make adjustments from there."
When Bergevin traded popular defenseman P.K. Subban for Weber, this is what he envisioned getting: a classic shutdown defenseman. As the game moves toward having mobility, finesse and touch on defense, Weber is a throwback, one that flies in the face of the current trend but remains remarkably effective at what he does.
How effective? Among all skaters who played at least 750 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, no one was on the ice for fewer goals against per 60 minutes of ice time than Weber, according to Corsica.hockey.
No defenseman was really close, either, with Weber finishing at 1.27 goals against per 60 minutes and Nate Schmidt of the Washington Capitals coming in second at 1.49. The gap between Weber and Schmidt was the same as the gap between Schmidt and the 10th best defenseman on the list, Andrej Sekera of the Oilers, who was on the ice for 1.71 goals against per 60 minutes.
It might not be surprising to know that Weber also benefited from the best on ice 5-on-5 save percentage among NHL defensemen as well at .954, and it would be easy to credit Price for Weber's success in keeping the puck out of his net.
Just don't say that to Price.
"He's good at relieving pressure from the front of the net and pushing guys away," Price said when told of the save percentage statistic. "When he's faced with 1-on-1 situations, he's really hard to beat 1-on-1 because, one, he's got a really good stick and two, if you do get a step on him he's probably going to knock you over."
Detroit Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist found that out on March 21 at Bell Centre when, with Detroit leading 1-0, Canadiens backup goalie Al Montoya kicked a rebound from a sharp-angle shot right onto Nyquist's stick in the slot.
The short side of the net was wide open and Nyquist appeared to have an easy goal.
"You get a chance, good rebound there and it's laying in front of you," Nyquist said after the Red Wings' 2-1 overtime win that night before pausing and lowering his voice, "and you get pushed from behind."
That push came from Weber, and instead of using his hands he used his stick, otherwise known as a cross-check, and was not penalized.
Asked the next day if he remembered the play, Weber wasn't sure. So he was told that Nyquist was in front of the net and a rebound landed right on his stick with an open net in front of him. Weber suddenly remembered what happened next.
"And then he ended up on the ground?" he asked with a smile. "How did that happen?"
Weber could laugh about the incident because nothing came of it, and nothing came of it because of what he did.
"That was just bad body positioning on my part," he said. "I have to be on the inside of him there and I wasn't. So I did what I had to do."
Weber has done what the Canadiens have needed him to do very often this season, but now they will need him to do it at the most important time of the year.
His last Stanley Cup Playoff game was a nightmare, with Weber on the ice for all five goals against in the Predators' 5-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round. But the Canadiens are hoping they get the 2016 first-round version of Weber, who helped prevent Anaheim Ducks right wing Corey Perry from scoring a goal for seven games.
Weber did it by consistently denying Perry entry to his favorite area of the ice, the front of the net.
"His physicality is different," Price said of Weber. "He's never been a guy who made a lot of open-ice hits. That's not his game. He's most effective when he's got a guy angled off in a position and you just can't move. He's between you and the net, and you're not going to get there.
"I can imagine it would be a really frustrating scenario for a skill person."
Particularly if that skill person has to face him every second night. Weber can't wait to showcase his own unique skill in the playoffs in his new hockey home for the first time.
"Just listening to the way guys talk about the playoffs, what it means to this city, it's exciting," Weber said. "I mean, I got chills first coming in this building and playing as a home team player. It was pretty special.
"I can only imagine how electric it's going to be in here in the playoffs."
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