It Hab-Ened Last Night: Habs Edge Bruins to Force Game Seven
On Tuesday night, the Montreal Canadiens' had their backs firmly pressed up against a wall. And at many points throughout game six at the Bell Centre on that faithful niht, they had their backs firmly pressed up against that same wall. At one point, even, defenseman Jaroslav Spacek actually had his face firmly pressed up against a pane of glass at the Bell Centre - but more on that later.
Needless to say, the Habs were in a little bit of trouble. After starting strong in their first round series against the Boston Bruins, taking the first two games on the road, the Canadiens stumbled, dropping the next three, including two at the Bell Centre and Saturday's epic double overtime game in Boston. A lot of it was their own fault, such as allowing Boston to get an insurmountable lead in game 3, or maybe playing TOO well at the top of game 4. Other situations, such as game 5's lucky play to end double overtime, were out of their control.
But on Tuesday night, everything that happened in the five games before didn't matter anymore. It was do or die, and all that mattered was scoring more goals than the opposition. Period. And after 60 excruciatingly long minutes of hockey, that's exactly what they did.
The Canadiens walked into the Bell Centre facing elimination, and they walked out and onto a plane bound for Boston one win away from a second round berth and a date with the Washington Capitals. At times, it looked pretty grim, as if the Bruins weren't ready to let this one past them. But neither were the Canadiens. And the end result was a 2-1 thriller of a victory by the Habs.
The scoring started early - or so it seemed. Tim Thomas misread a dump in by Scott Gomez three minutes into the game, which led to an awkward save and a deceiving rebound which found its way onto Brian Gionta's stick and in the back of the net. The referee - no, not Chris Lee, the other one - didn't see the puck, however, so he blew his whistle and the goal was disallowed. Not a good start for the Habs, as fans found themselves booing and throwing their commemorative towels on the ice.
The Canadiens wouldn't let this put a damper on their game, however, and they would score on a 5-on-3 that some might consider a make-up call, halfway through the period on a typical Mike Cammalleri shot, his third of the series. The Bruins would tie things up a minute into the second on a 5-hole goal at the side of the net from Dennis Seidenberg that Carey Price would probably like to have back. The Canadiens would once agains shrug it off, and thanks to an absolutely stupid check from Milan Lucic on an unsuspecting Jaroslav Spacek, the Canadiens would take advantage of yet another 5 on 3 to put themselves up 2 to 1.
As we all know by now, that's all it would take for the Habs to win this one. The rest of the game would be a nail-biter, with chances on both sides of the ice, but of course, more for Boston, and the Canadiens would recede into Jacques Martin mode. The Bruins would have 11 shots in the third, but it could have been many more.
Despite this late flurry that could have led to a much more different outcome, the Canadiens played a great, solid, defensive game to earn a victory they so desperately needed. They doubled-up on the Bruins in hits, including four from Paul Mara. They blocked 27 shots, again, double that of the Bruins, including a whopping 8 from the elder statesman on the blueline, Roman Hamrlik. They even led in the faceoff circle, a rare plus for this team, thanks in large part to Jeff Halpern's six wins and Gomez's nine.
And likely most importantly, the "little four" - Gomez, Gionta, Cammalleri and Plekanec - combined for 20 of the Canadiens' 27 shots, and their ice time definitely reflected this stat.
Finally, Carey Price looked shaky at times, fumbling with the puck and getting lucky on a couple of fanned shots from the Bruins, but in the end, he made the saves, he kept the Canadiens in the game and he broke his seven game losing streak in this arena, with 31 stops and another excellent performance. While Mike Cammalleri has put up the points (3 goals, 6 assists), Carey Price has truly been the deciding factor for the Canadiens, and deserves as much praise as anyone for the win.
Yes, the Habs could have likely prevented a few heart attacks had they scored a few more goals. Yes, their defensive system to close out tight games frustrates the hell out of all of us. But in the end, they got the victory, and that's what mattered most.
ONLY ONE THING LEFT
In only a few hours, these two teams will take the ice for one last time, with everything on the line.
For the Boston Bruins, it's a season of mostly highs, and especially high expectations from a fanbase and ownership group sick of losing. For the Canadiens, a rollercoaster season where, thanks to injuries and a questionable record, they ended up being the underdogs yet again. For both these teams, it's the championship title that has been the rivalry between the Canadiens and the Bruins. A championship title that has found itself on the Canadiens' mantle more often than not.
In less than a day, everything will be settled. The dust will have cleared, the malfunctioning gloves will be put away, the cheapshots and the verbal jousting will be done and in the past, and one team will head to a tough second round match-up against either the Philadelphia Flyers or the Washington Capitals, and the other team will be headed home, their heads hanging.
Which team will it be? After multiple comebacks, surprise wins, hits from behind, unintentional birds, and six amazing performances from two world class goalies, it truly is anyone's guess. All I know is that two cities will be watching, and no one will be able to exhale until the final whistle sounds.
Game seven hockey. Is there anything better?
I don't really have much to say about the incident involving Milan Lucic and Jaroslav Spacek. Frankly, I'm sick and tired of having to look back at these incidents. We all know they're unnecessary, that they're avoidable, and that the league needs to do something about them. You won't get much argument out of me if you say that it wasn't the worst hitting from behind incident we've ever seen. Yes, it was a hit from behind, yes, it was charging and it definitely merited a five minute penalty and a game ejection, it obviously looked a lot worse than it was:
Lucic slammed into Spacek full speed, and Spacek remained on the ice for several minutes, bleeding from the face. The cut was likely the result of his shield or even his face hitting an awkward part of the glass, but nevertheless he was hurt and he needed about 4 or 5 stitches. He would return to the game shortly thereafter, and after the game he would admit that he stayed on the ice waiting for the trainer - as he's likely been instructed to do in such situations - and that he simply didn't see Lucic coming, likely because of the other Bruin approaching him from the blueline.
What I really didn't like about the hit was Lucic's reaction to it. No remorse, just surprise that it was even called. He even argued the call with the referee instead of accepting his obvious mistake and hitting the showers. But hey, that's the kind of reaction that's come to be expected from players such as these.
Does it deserve a suspension?
I'm not entirely sure. During the season, I'd say give him a game or two, at least to send a message, especially with the recent crackdown. But considering some of the hits that have gone unpunished during these playoffs, it likely wouldn't fall into the category, especially with the Bruins about to play a game seven and Lucic's important status in the Bruins line-up.
Frankly, I just don't want to get into a major argument about this. Let's just admit that it was a dirty hit, probably not a malicious hit. An unfortunate circumstance, if you will, and that we're all glad that Spacek was okay.
Whether Lucic will face supplementary discipline is still uncertain, but the NHL would have to act quickly with game seven in only a few hours. I wouldn't bet any money on it, however, nor would I lose any sleep over. It's unsurprising, and we have enough things to dwell on following six games in this series.
Check back tomorrow for coverage of game seven!