Murray, Downey feel for Lapierre after Canadiens rookie sent down

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But on chat boards and other media, about as many supported team management's decision to ship Lapierre to the American Hockey League's Hamilton Bulldogs ahead of Tuesday's midnight roster freeze.

The 21-year-old Montreal native had three goals and an assist and was plus-5 in four games since he was called up last week and was becoming a favourite of Bell Centre fans.

Many would rather have seen fourth-liners Murray or Downey sent down, but management opted to keep a winning roster intact.

Murray, who got back his spot at centre on the fourth line with Lapierre's departure, said he understood why some fans were disappointed.

" It's just natural," he said. "Max played great for us.

"If I was asked if I should be put over him it would be tough because Max did a lot for the team in the last little bit. But as (coach Guy) Carbonneau said, it's the new NHL. It's a tough spot, but we're professionals and we've just got to go and play hockey."

Downey, the team's seldom-used enforcer who has yet to score in 12 games this season, planned to call Lapierre to give him his support.

"I just want the fans to know it's nothing personal," Downey said. "It's just the nature of the business.

"Everyone goes through it. Your first and second years, you earn your stripes. Right now, there's 23 guys on the roster and that's the way it is. When time permits, the door will open for Max."

With Steve Begin due to return from a back injury, the Canadiens would have been over the 23-man roster limit and would have to send a player down.

Assistant general manager Pierre Gauthier said keeping Lapierre was eating into the team's salary cap margin. Also, Murray and Downey need to clear waivers if sent down, while Lapierre does not.

Lapierre can be recalled whenever the Canadiens want him.

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