Habs-Bruins Game 5: Playing the Blame Game

It's been a weird first round.

Not only for the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins, but for pretty much every one of the 16 teams that made the post-season only two weeks ago. Just on Friday night, we had two blown leads - one three goal lead for the Sabres and one late lead for the Ducks. Two nights earlier, the Rangers were the ones blowing a three goal lead, and the night before, it was the Sharks turn to come back from a four goal deficit from the Kings. Not to mention the fact that the Hawks are one game away from a complete comeback against the Vancouver Canucks in their series.

Am I telling you all of this to try and myself feel better about what's going on with the Habs in their own series? Maybe. The fact of the matter is that while pretty much no one with any hockey sense expected this one to be short, blowing a two game lead, and on home ice, no less, doesn't feel good. Especially when it's crystal clear that through four games, the Canadiens are the team that has been the most dominant.

With wins in the first two games in Boston that sent Bruins fans home booing their team and before the final whistle, many fans - myself included - were silently hoping for a sweep of their biggest rival on an ice surface where the Bruins have been dominated for the last two seasons. They lost the first game in Montreal on Monday, and that was okay because they came out a little rusty, a little nervous, but still dominated two periods of the game and nearly tied the whole thing by the end of it.

Things were set up for a big comeback in game 4 and a near certain 3 to 1 series lead by the end of Thursday night. And halfway through the game, this was seemingly confirmed by the play of the Canadiens, who were averaging nearly a shot a minute and were up 3-1 in the game by the 8 minute mark of the second. But with a shift of momentum, it wouldn't be long before the Canadiens found themselves heading to OT, and not too much longer after that before the game was over on a 5-hole shot on Carey Price by Michael Ryder, to send fans home steaming with a 5-4 OT loss. (read more about the game in Shahab the Schoolboy's blog)

SO, WHO'S TO BLAME?

So what does this all mean? We've had a four game sample to judge these two teams in the post-season, and all we can really gather is that neither has been able to take advantage of home ice, and that any preconceptions about which team has the advantage are pretty much moot. No lead is safe in this series, and despite the quick start theory, scoring first might not necessarily mean a win.

While it's easy to chalk up the blown 2-0 series lead to luck or destiny or any of those unmeasurable things, in reality, when I look at games one through four of this series I see a Jacques Martin system that worked for the Canadiens on the road, and one they relied on too heavily for portions of games 3 and 4 that killed their momentum and cost them their home games and their newfound home ice advantage.

It would also be easy to come in here and rant about the Bruins and their lack of respect. In fact, when I was planning this blog, it was more than likely going to be a long rant about headhunting troglodytes, wannabe PhD's, hypocrite shit-disturbers, rotund coaches, and, more importantly, Stone Cold Steve Austin impersonators.

You still might see that blog out of me yet, but the fact of the matter is that it would be the easy way out. We all know what that city, its fans and its players are and what they represent, and it would be useless to lay all the blame for the Canadiens' losses on them. It's not Andrew Ference's or Zdeno's Chara's fault that we're headed to game five tonight all tied up. Nor is it Mark Recchi's or Brad Marchand's fault that the Canadiens have come out for several periods of this series flat footed and at half speed.

No, my friends, any "fault" in this series solely rests on the shoulders of the Canadiens and their players, and that holds true for everyone from the coaches, to the defense, to the forwards and even Carey Price. There have been soft goals, bad changes, poor defensive coverage, missed offensive opportunities, the works.

Carey Price has looked like a God on skates on some saves, and a sieve on others. On some shifts, we sit and watch PK Subban in awe, and on others, we sit asking ourselves if we're seeing the immature, irresponsible Subban reemerging on bad changes or bad defensive plays. Roman Hamrlik will make a tremendous play on one shift, while Jaroslav Spacek would completely undo all of that the next.

So, forget our collective hatred for the Boston Bruins for a second, and look a little closer to home if you're going to attribute any blame. Simply put, the Canadiens haven't been good enough this week through two games. Now, how do you explain this collapse? Well, that's another story, and possibly a question that may not be answerable at this point.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Naturally, the Canadiens aren't a perfect team, they're bound to make mistakes and they're playing a very good team in the Boston Bruins, no matter what happened in the regular season or even in earlier games in this series. The Bruins should never be counted out of a game, and the Canadiens have made the mistake twice now of giving them way too many opportunities to pull the rug right out from under them.

Logic may escape the Canadiens at times, but it would still dictate that the odds of this happening a third time would be very low, especially heading back to an arena where they have most recently won two games. The pressure of a crowd of 21,000 cheering them on and expecting a win is reduced to that of an arena booing for them to lose. The pressure of keeping shifts short, working hard to get matchups and not trip on the pitfalls of a rabid Bruins teams looking for blood could work to their advantage. The Habs are likely to keep things simple tonight, play a game that will remain unaffected by outside circumstance and stifle any attempts by the Bruins to take a stranglehold on the series.

Of course, as always, anything can happen, but the Canadiens simply can't afford to lose three games in a row to this rival team, and everyone in their ranks knows this. What the result will be is anyone's guess. But if the Canadiens come out of another game at the receiving end of a loss, it's pretty obvious that it will be no one's fault but there own.

There are simply no excuses, no "obscene gestures", no amateur diagnoses or dirty plays that should save them from the blame. The ball is in their court, and it's about time they delivered on the victory we all know they have in them.

GAME FIVE NOTES:

  • I don't want to spend too much time on the Andrew Ference BS, but Dave Stubbs had a good take on it at The Gazette, including Ference actually trying to justify it and make excuses for himself.
  • Despite all this negative talk, there has still been many positives for the Habs to take out of the first four games. One of those positives is David Desharnais, arguably one of the best and most consistent players for the Habs in this series. The 5'7" forward has been matched up against the 6'9" Zdeno Chara and he has come out looking like the bigger man. It's been truly remarkable to watch. Arpon Basu profiles the Canadiens' forward at CTV
  • No word on any line-up changes for the Habs yet, but if I was coach Jacques Martin the first move I'd made is Jaroslav Spacek (-3 in game four) for Yannick Weber. The Canadiens also have to find a better option for Gomez and Gionta's wing. Maybe the abovementioned Desharnais?
  • Bruins' goalie Tim Thomas has figured in amongst the top three goaltenders in Vezina voting. Carey Price was not among those goalies, and PK Subban was not among the top three rookies in the Calder voting, but expect both to be close behind in the top five when all is revealed. Price still has an outside chance to snag a nomination for the Hart trophy for league MVP.

Enjoy tonight's game,

Prax

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