It Hab-Ened Last Night: Habs Take Game 1 With Class
It's wasn't particularly easy, but on Thursday night, the Montreal Canadiens took a 1-0 series lead against the Boston Bruins. In Boston. In front of 18,000 rabid, hate-filled Bruins fans. Against a team that likely feels just as much hatred against the Canadiens, and that clearly marked their territory over the last couple of months.
The win was a good one, and it showed that despite their lack of size, the Canadiens can definitely match the Bruins physicality, under the right circumstances. It showed that the Habs were definitely into the game more than the Bruins, and that they had revenge on their minds. It showed that the Canadiens definitely have more heart and more determination than the Bruins, and especially more speed and finesse, and control. However they managed to do it, with a 2-0 win in hostile territory, it showed that the Montreal Canadiens can beat the Bruins.
Everyone played their role in this near-perfect win. Carey Price was, of course, perfect, stopping all 31 shots he faced, including an 18-shot barrage in the second, to earn a shutout and break an eight game playoff losing streak.
Tomas Plekanec was great, earning a team high five shots and two takeaways in 20 minutes of ice time, that included two shorthanded minutes where he would get more offensive in the offensive zone than the entire Bruins troupe combined. Brian Gionta was awesome, scoring both goals for the Habs, and his linemate, Scott Gomez, might have played his best game as a Hab, earning two assists.
On defense, PK Subban made you forget that the Canadiens are without the services of Andrei Markov, playing 27 minutes. He was second to James Wisniewski in powerplay time with 5 minutes manning the point, and had the most time on the PK with 3:31. The other 19 minutes, well, he spent shutting down the Bruins biggest threat in Milan Lucic. Roman Hamrlik, the Canadiens' unsung hero, played 20 minutes himself, finished the game with a +2 rating, and proved to everyone why he's been in the league for nearly two decades.
In the depth roles, Ryan White had 7 hits in less than eight minutes on the ice. Brent Sopel blocked four shots, and despite taking a nasty shot from Zdeno Chara in his first shift, Andrei Kostitsyn returned to play two periods with absolute fire, earning three hits and three blocked shots in 12 minutes of play.
The Bruins were, of course, dangerous the entire night, outhitting and outshooting, and dominating in the faceoff circle, but in the end, you could tell that they just weren't into it, for whatever reason. They weren't mentally prepared, and the Canadiens took advantage, scoring two goals and then completely shutting it down like only Jacques Martin can. Were Habs fans on the edge of their seats, praying the Bruins wouldn't get that one goal that would most definitely turn the momentum in their favor? Of course they were.
In the end, all that matters is that the Canadiens have taken that ever important first goal, and ever important first game that is, in a lot of cases, the indication of where a series may be headed. Now, the Canadiens have taken away home ice from the Bruins, they have taken away their confidence and they have gotten into their heads. The Bruins have insurmountable pressure on them to win this year, and now, the Canadiens are going to force them to get desperate on Tuesday night. And that isn't necessarily a good thing for Boston's team.
Of course, I don't mean to sound overly confident. The Bruins are now a wounded animal, and there's nothing more dangerous than a wounded bear in the wild. While game one was considered to be the key to this series, game two will be equally as important to both teams on Saturday night. And with the Bruins likely to play with a sense of urgency, it's probably going to be a great night of hockey.
Enjoy the win, Habs fans!
For some reason, the Habs entered last night's game as the underdogs. You don't have to go very far to find a genuinely large amount of people who believe that the Bruins would easily handle the Canadiens due to this size, and likely more importantly, due to the fact that in two of the past three games, the Bruins have utterly dominated the Canadiens on home ice.
But it doesn't make any sense to me. For starters, our very own predictions here on TCL for the series were at a near deadlock, with no consensus reached for a winner. The Canadiens have defeated the Bruins four times in six meetings this season, and on several occasions, fairly badly. They have history on their side, with a nearly uncountable number of victories against Boston in the post-season, this being the 33rd meeting between the two clubs in ninety years.
It's pretty amazing how people easily look the last two games in Boston and generally assume that this is a large enough sample size to make a prediction on a series. Sure, the NHL is a "what have you done for me lately" kind of league, but people have been just ignoring facts when it comes to these two teams. For starters, I believe it's pretty fair to shrug off the 7-0 debacle in Boston as an anomaly. The Bruins were likely on a rush after what they witnessed in their last game in Montreal two weeks earlier, and the Habs on a complete low point. Obviously, I'm talking about the Max Pacioretty incident. Simply put, the Canadiens didn't show up for the 3rd period in Montreal that faithful night, and the Bruins took advantage of this two weeks later.
I'm also pretty sure we can also eliminate February's "Beantown Beatdown" as something that's unlikely to happen again. Truth be told, while the Bruins took advantage of Habs and forced them into situations where they would have to retaliate, nearly everything that happened in that game was the Canadiens' fault. They retaliated, they played right into the hands of the Bruins and got beaten down. The Bruins eliminated their finesse, took away their speed by completely taking them out of the game. The Canadiens now know that they can't retaliate to the Bruins' attempts to fight them. I'm afraid you won't see another Beantown Beatdown in Boston this year.
That leaves four games that, in my opinion, are the proper sample for these two teams. And guess what? The Canadiens took all of those games. Don't get me wrong, there's no doubt in my mind that the Bruins CAN beat the Canadiens. But after last night's game, and after so many years of utter dominance against our friends to the south, I think I can legitimately say that they WON'T beat the Canadiens in a seven game series, in 2011. The Habs are just too smart to play into their tactics again, and as tough as they are, the Bruins don't have the balls to try and either a) take out another player like they did Pacioretty or b) turn another game into one giant fight. All eyes are on them for both those incidents, and whether one of their players' daddy helps run the league or not, the NHL won't allow another incident between these two teams to go unpunished. And guess what? It isn't the Canadiens that are going to be messing around like that.
The Canadiens thrive in the underdog role. They've proven that countless times in the last few seasons. And despite all that they've accomplished, both in last year's playoffs and this year, without two (three, if you count Jaroslav Halak) key players, for some reason, they still have plenty to prove.
I believe that this lack of faith from fans and from pundits will lead them past the Boston Bruins. Probably in six or seven games, possibly in four or five in the Bruins fail to get out of this mental funk. In either case, it will happen. It's meant to happen.
And if you don't believe me, just ask this guy:
Game 2 is Saturday night in Boston at 7PM, on CBC and RDS.
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