Habs Continue to Prove Why They Are Not The Underdog In Bruins Series
No one said it was going to be easy. At least, not before the start of the series.
Last week, I argued that the Montreal Canadiens were not actually underdogs in their first round series against the Boston Bruins, that they only had the perception of being an underdog, because of the NHL's and the NHL fan mentality of "what have you done for me lately".
And what had the Canadiens done for the NHL lately, with regards to their rivalry against the Bruins? Well, in the last two months of the season, they had defeated the Bruins once at the Bell Centre, but the night was marred with Zdeno Chara's actions against Max Pacioretty, overshadowing what should have been a wonderful win for the Habs, instead raising questions of whether the Canadiens could keep up with the Bruins, physically, questions that were intensified in part thanks to their prior loss to the Bruins, a month before in Boston's "Beantown Beatdown". Two weeks later, in what many were hoping would be a revenge game, the Canadiens would come out onto the ice complacent, nearly catatonic - figuratively speaking, of course - falling to the Bruins by a touchdown and intensifying those questions even further.
With the Bruins and Habs pretty much deadlocked in third and sixth place in the East, respectively, it was a near guarantee that these two teams would once again be facing each other for the fifth time in a decade. But instead of talking about the fact that the Canadiens defeated the Bruins three of those times, and that in every win they were below Boston in the standings, or instead of talking about the four wins against the Bruins during the regular season, and their two-year dominance of the club, ever since 2009's first round sweep that led to a near overhaul of the roster performed by Bob Gainey, all that people could talk about were the last three games. The Beantown Beatdown, the Pacioretty incident, and the Bruins' dominance in the final game during the season.
But of course, people had completely neglected to consider the three games before early February, as well as the unexpected playoff run of the Canadiens the year before. People had neglected that the Canadiens actually managed to do better this year, despite suffering the same severity of injuries throughout the season and much less ammunition in the cannons. People neglected the ability of this team to be clutch, and to rise up against their biggest obstacles in their most important moments. More importantly, people forgot that the Montreal Canadiens have had the Boston Bruins' number for most of the last century.
So to me, and to many, although the Bruins are a bigger team, a stronger team, a deeper team in many regards, they weren't really the better team. The Canadiens had the edge behind the bench, a much more balanced defense - as evidenced in game 2 when Zdeno Chara had to sit out - a speedier group of forwards that could beat pretty much anyone on the other side in a foot race, and at the very least, equality between the pipes. This is, of course, disregarding the sheer odds of a Canadiens' victory.
Of course, I'm not saying all of this to imply that beating the Bruins would be easy. Didn't you read the first sentence of this article? The Bruins are still a tough team, and a motivated team that definitely has it in for the Canadiens, and they wouldn't go down without a fight. That said, all it would really take for the Canadiens to ensure a victory in this series would be a single win in hostile territory last week.
They did us one better. They won two games in hostile territory, taking both affairs in Boston in a mild shocker. Home ice advantage was therefore eliminated, and the ball was in the Habs' court.
The stage was set for game 3, with a raucous crowd cheering on their team and booing the hell out of the opposition, especially the hated 6'9" troglodyte on the blueline. People on Montreal radio, on Twitter, around the blogosphere were beginning to talk sweep, and everything was looking up for the Canadiens.
Unfortunately, a rough start and a bad case of the jitters changed the plans, as the Bruins would take a 3-0 lead by the second period of Monday's game. The Canadiens would fight back, bringing the game to within a single goal by the third period. But stellar goaltending from Tim Thomas and an empty net goal in the dying seconds of the game would ensure a 4-2 victory for the Bruins, and a chance to get back into it in Game 4, three nights later.
That said, for the entire second half of the game Monday night, the ice was tilted heavily into the Bruins zone. The Canadiens dominated like they hadn't in two prior games in Boston. If it wasn't for the jitters mentioned above, and some indiscipline by Benoit Pouliot at the end of the second period that led to the Bruins game winning goal only seconds after he stepped out of the box in the third - and yes, I am giving Carey Price a reprieve for his fumble handling the puck on the play - this game could very well have had a different outcome.
Yes, the Bruins have a chance to get back into the series and tie things up on Thursday. Yes, the series has been relatively even, and it could very well have been 3-0 for either team with a few bounces going different directions than they did. But in reality, everything that I have said about the Canadiens in this series has been confirmed by the heart and soul this team has displayed over the last week. The Bruins may be big, bad, and though, but the intangibles give the Canadiens the advantage. The so-called experts didn't give the Habs a chance. Well, guess what? They've proven every single one of them wrong.
I don't want to get ahead of myself or jinx anything, but I have a hard time believing that the Bruins can come out of the Bell Centre with a win tomorrow night. The advantages of home ice were proven on Monday night, despite a slow start that momentarily silenced the crowd. The Bruins' confidence was damn near shattered despite their early lead, and the Canadiens confidence was more than restored.
The keys to a Canadiens victory on Thursday are relatively simple:
- Carey Price simply CANNOT make another fumble like he did on Rich Peverley's second period goal.
- The Canadiens CANNOT allow the Bruins to take the crowd out of game.
- Benoit Pouliot needs to spend a night in the pressbox.
- As for the rest of the team, and the coaching staff, keep down what you're doing.
Habs fans have many reasons to be proud of their team. Thirteen players have put up points in three relatively low scoring games. Mike Cammalleri leads the charge with four. Roman Hamrlik is an amazing +4 on the series, and no one is lower than a -1. Tomas Plekanec has been outstanding with 11 shots, a pretty spin-o-rama goal that made Tim Thomas look like a fool, and an average of 20 minutes of ice time. PK Subban is behind only Dan Boyle and Drew Doughty in ice time in the playoffs, and those two have gone to overtime twice in their series. His defense partner, Hal Gill, has been pretty much as good as he was last year, with 8 blocked shots (Brent Sopel has 9, Hamrlik 7, James Wisniewski 6, and Travis Moen and Subban have five a piece). Ryan White has been a factor on every shift he's played, with 13 hits.
With this kind of top to bottom performance, with nearly everyone producing and contributing and Jacques Martin's system actually working, not to mention the glue that holds everything together - Carey Price - Habs fans have good reason to be confident about their team's chances.
But they still have two games to win. And the Bruins have newfound confidence, a win on Bell Centre ice, and confirmation that the series will be returning to Boston for Game 5 on Saturday night. Ladies and gentleman, we have a series.
Tomorrow night's game is damn near unpredictable. Fans in both cities will be on the edge of their seats for the better part of three hours. But that's playoff hockey, and it feels great!
Check back tomorrow for Jason Pietroniro's preview for game four, and discuss the game in the comments below, as well as on the brand new TCL Habs Facebook page!
- The abovementioned "key" of Benoit Pouliot sitting Game 4 out seems to be confirmed. Dave Stubbs reports that Pouliot is the odd man out at practice, with Jeff Halpern set to make his return tomorrow night between Eller and Moen. Tom Pyatt moves to the 4th line with White and Desharnais.
- Randy Phillips at The Gazette is reporting that Louis Leblanc would like to play for the Hamilton Bulldogs now that the season is over for the Montreal Juniors, but his status remains unconfirmed.
- Wanna see what a douchebag looks like on skates? =)