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Subban’s presence felt

Youngster earns Gill’s admiration

By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / April 27, 2011

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MONTREAL — During this first-round series, Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban has been the player Bruins fans have loved to hate.

When the teams squared off at the Bell Centre, Canadiens fans jeered Bruins captain Zdeno Chara for the hit that knocked Max Pacioretty out of the lineup. In the case of Subban, he has been accused of being a diver, a cheap-shot artist, and a yapper, and Bruins fans have let him know how much they don’t care for him, shift by shift at TD Garden.

But Subban also has been arguably Montreal’s top defenseman. He and partner Hal Gill did a fine job of handcuffing the Bruins’ top line of David Krejci, Nathan Horton, and Milan Lucic through much of the first five games.

In Game 5, Subban played a game-high 40 minutes and 38 seconds in the double-overtime contest.

Subban, 21, finished his first full NHL season with 38 points (14 goals) in 77 games. The Toronto native has been touted for his offensive skill, which is one reason he was selected in the second round (No. 43 overall) by Montreal in the 2007 draft.

After making two regular-season appearances last year, Subban made a splash in the playoffs with 8 points in 14 games and finished a plus-2. In the first five games against Boston, he had one goal and one assist and was even. His goal came in Game 4, when he logged his fewest minutes of the series (26:02).

“When he came in, offensively we knew what he was capable of,’’ said Gill. “He’s worked on that side of his game, but more importantly, for me, he’s worked a lot on his defensive side.

“He can be stingy defensively. When you take all that skill and put it with a defensive mind, it’s tough to play against. That’s where he can be really successful, is being aggressive defensively and then having the big shot and moving the puck offensively as well.’’

Gill joked that he mentors Subban in only one aspect of the game, because offensively, the former Bruin has been more challenged in that area with 171 points in 994 regular-season games and six assists in 103 postseason contests.

“Obviously, I talk to him more about defensive schemes than I would about offensive schemes,’’ said Gill. “But when we talk, he picks up things as we go. It’s still a learning process but it’s something he’s done really well at. He’s been really solid defensively.’’

Gill said Subban doesn’t mind when he is booed by Bruins fans or anyone else. He sees it as a testament to the job Subban is doing.

“If you’re getting booed in the [opponent’s] building, that’s a good thing and I think he thrives on that,’’ said Gill. “He wants to be that guy, he wants to be the go-to guy, he wants the puck in big situations, and that’s a rare breed.

“He wants the puck on both sides, he wants to kill the big penalty, he wants to get the big power-play goal, he wants to do it all.’’

Often those qualities are built over time, but in the case of Subban, his confidence has always been there.

“That’s something imbedded in him, he wants to be the guy,’’ said Gill. “It’s different but it’s great. He’s a guy you can count on. He’s becoming that guy.’’

Last night, Gill and Subban were entrusted with keeping Krejci’s line off the board again, something imperative if the Habs were going to force a Game 7 in Boston tonight.

“I think we’ve tried to take away as much time and space as we can from those guys and move the puck and try to spend time in their end,’’ said Gill. “That’s the key against those guys is to limit their time with the puck.’’

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.

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