Monday, 11 May 2015

Game Six - EC Semi Final: Habs vs. Lightning

THIRD PERIOD:

- Habs possession in 2nd period declined to 46%, 51% over 40 minutes.

- Do you believe in miracles? Well in case you hadn't thought about it, the Habs are going to need a few of them this period. 

- Here comes the Habs tire fire ... er ... powerplay.

- Can't buy a goal. Can't buy one.

- Habs got pulverized in the neutral zone tonight. As I've said on here for years, games and Cups are won in this League by dominating centre ice. Tampa, to its credit, played a sound game that focused on controlling zone exits and entries, while applying the necessary pressure to generate centre turnovers, which directly resulted in goals scored. The game of hockey is paradoxically complex in execution, but relatively simple in strategy.

- So ... that's that. Lots of questions to be answered heading into the summer. Can Bergevin sign Petry? Other fundamental considerations - what will the team do with regards to some key "leadership" players, most notably, Thomas Plekanec, who again has put forward a pretty awful playoff appearance, David Desharnais, who has seemingly never been able to get his game on track since signing a generous extension, and Brandon Prust, who may find himself the odd man out as younger, cheaper and probably more capable talent work their way onto a full-time role.

And what of Michel Therrien? In light of a 110 point, first place regular season, would Bergevin even dare to let him go if Mike Babcock indicated an interest in taking over behind the bench?


An interesting four months lay ahead. One thing is for certain, as usual, there is never a dull moment in Habsland.

SECOND PERIOD:

- Habs with 54% possession in the first period, even with the Tampa powerplay. Essential for Montreal to return to playing with discipline. It also wouldn't hurt if their forechecking efforts were turned up a little.

- Tampa storms out of the gate, Lightning really getting their defense involved with their offense. It's paying off. Montreal needs to replicate.

- Habs clinging to life here. Tampa coming in waves.

- Stamkos. Bad turnover at centre ice. It's 2-0.  Season slipping away.

- Habs try to bounce back, but just can't quite set up high percentage chances. Tampa's defense holding the fort around the slot so far.

- Habs pushing heir defense very agressively forward. Looking desperately for a goal. 8 minutes left in the period.

- Tampa just lining up across their line. Which will either work very well, or very badly. Let's see.

- Finally, a powerplay. If there was ever a time for this unit to score, this is pretty much that moment.

- Horrid powerplay. Couldn't even setup in the Tampa zone.

- Luck weighs in with its opinion. Parenteau hits the post. Tampa now in the powerplay looking for the series kill.

- Montreal's poor penalty kill is finishing their season. Palat with the dagger.

- Well ... it was a good run, but tonight the Habs luck, which really hasn't been with them in the post-season, will come to and end. The loss tonight if anything, shines a glaring light again on the team's inherent weaknesses that hampered them throughout the season - a disorganized, borderline chaotic powerplay that nobody seemed able to fix. Poor turnovers, especially at centre ice, and a muted offense that seemed more focused on chips than actual passing. Many questions face this team heading into the summer, I'm not so sure there are any answers. Tonight was a dysfunctional effort generating a poor result. It's not a fixable situation - at least, not with the minds who are making decisions.


FIRST PERIOD:

- There was some (very wild) speculation this afternoon by hopeful Lightning fans that Ryan Callahan might start tonight. He will not.

- Also out tonight is Jonathan Drouin. Jon Cooper tinkering with the lineup. 

- Here's the warmup lines for Tampa:

Killorn-Filppula-Stamkos
Palat-Johnson-Kucherov
Morrow-Boyle-Brown
Namestnikov-Paquette-Marchessault

- Cooper making some last minute lineup adjustments. Marchessault and Nesterov are in,notably   Namestnikov is a healthy scratch.

- 3 Minutes in, both teams feeling each other out, lots of chips and shoot ins. Canadiens seem early on to be set on playing classic road game. 

- First Habs chance goes to Gallager, Bishop square to the close range shot. Nervousness building.

- Both teams with very short shifts, no more than 40 seconds. Looks like this will be a long, grinding game.

- Galchenyuk skating hard, is horribly overdue for a goal. Here's hoping.

- Habs (so far) doing a decent job carrying the puck through the neutral zone. It's giving them opportunity to generate shots on Bishop. It appears as though the Habs are looking to cash in off a rebound.

- If Tampa wants to win this game by out hitting and checking the Habs, it's not playing off of their strengths. 

- That "feel out" period observed after three minutes has extended to the 11 minute mark, lots of line matching happening, Cooper trying to find a spark.

- Things opening up a little, in the Habs favour. Prust and Plekanec miss golden scoring opportunities off tremendous setup efforts by Eller and Gallagher. Remember that.

- Early puck luck again favouring Tampa, with Markov losing two broken sticks in the span of mere seconds. 

- Petry hurt. That's very bad news.

- Plekanec's playoff woes continue, a terrible clearance attempt gives Tampa the game's first goal. 

- Meanwhile back in Montreal ...






THE WINDS OF LUCK BE BLOWIN', BUT WHICH DIRECTION?

If you had told me a week ago that the Montreal Canadiens would be playing tonight, I'd have laughed in your face (although not in a rude way), and then quickly offered you a bet involving the wagering of my home and kids. That's how confident I was six days ago that the Habs were on the cusp of bowing out of the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Thanks goodness, of course, that you weren't there to take my gamble. I like my home, thank you very much. The kids ... well, you can still have those.

Anyway, in six very short days, matters have changed abruptly. Six days ago, you couldn't have faulted the Canadiens for folding up their tents and going home - having suffered a seemingly mortal wound after surrendering a last second winning goal to find themselves down 3-0 in the series.

But then something changed - while nothing changed. After the game 3 loss, Coach Michel Therrien reaffirmed that he thought his team was playing well, and that he saw little reason to change team strategy, an assessment many of us nattered over since this was the same team that had just gone 1-30 on their powerplay. This Habs team had just gone off the rails to a 3-0 series deficit, and you're saying that you think everything is fine? Com'on coach. You're not that dense, are you?

The thing is, Therrien was (mostly) correct. The Habs had outplayed Tampa in games 1 and 3, but fortune wasn't on the team's side. Racking up 9 goalpost shots in three games was a pretty strong indicator that Tampa had Montreal's number this year. That despite all the effort, the Lightning were never to be beaten because the luck Gods had simply decided that Tampa, come hell or high water, were going to advance to the Eastern finals.

Luck, like oceanic trade winds, has a funny way of suddenly changing direction. Maybe that's what this Habs team believed going in to game 4 - that if they just kept plugging, eventually the horseshoes, which has P.K. Subban so aptly described were providing significant assistance to Ben Biship, would vacate the Lightning's crease.

And so game four was held, and the Canadiens soundly thumped the Lightning in their own rink. Then game five, and the Habs, as they did two nights previous, soundly outplayed Tampa again, en route to a late game winning goal by P.A. Parenteau. Suddenly, this series was reborn.

The funny thing was, the Habs victories in game 4 and 5 came despite luck - certainly no more so than Saturday night when the Canadiens hit not one, but three goalposts on their suddenly revived powerplay. The Gods, it appears, were still on Tampa's side, but the plucky Canadiens refuse to capitulate to higher powers. This is a team determined to see their way to another Eastern Conference championship - despite the odds, and despite poor fortunes.

Tonight's test will not be easy. The Lightning, backed by their home crowd, will surely be determined to snuff out any last hopes of a miracle comeback. The Canadiens will require all hands on deck, and one more night of stellar performances delivered by those who this team has come to depend on most. Leaders will be required to stp forwards - those like Subban, Max Pacioretty, Andrei Markov, and of course, the great one himself - Carey Price.

And who knows? With a little luck, we might have one more night to decide this series once, and for all.

Puck drops at 7:40 EST.



YA KNOW, IF I'M PLAYING WITH THIS GUY ON MY TEAM, I'M NOT GIVING UP EITHER


First shot, about 1/500th of a second before "the save".

 

And this stunning picture from the Montreal Gazette just before the puck arrives:



The guy is just amazing. What a lucky, lucky privilege to have him playing on our team. 

More in a bit as we gear up for the next biggest game of the year.