Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Game One - EC Semi Finals: Habs vs. Bruins


Well, that was quite a roller coaster, wasn't it? Bathing in the glory of a double overtime victory, and early series advantage, some morning-after thoughts.

- Habs were - let's be perfectly honest here, roundly outplayed by the Bruins, who had trouble burying some glorious scoring chances. The Habs cannot count on good fortune to carry them through the rest of the series. Eventually Boston will bury these scoring opportunities, regardless of Price's capacity to play some heroic netminding.

- I watched the overtime period again, and Price's performance really was astounding. Most above average NHL netminders wouldn't - couldn't have made some of the acrobatic saves we saw from Carey. The split bad blocker save made by Price on Krejčí halfway through the first overtime period was one of the greatest OT saves I've ever seen by a Habs netminder. There's nothing wrong with having your goaltender steal the occasional victory, but you cannot rely it. Certainly not in what reckons to be a lengthy, grinding series.

- The Eller/Bourque/Gionta line continues to be head above shoulders, the best line on this team. They were pretty much the only line generating consistent chances on Raask last night, and were among the (very) few possession brights spots for the Canadiens. The reliance on Eller is eerily resemblant of the Habs early season success, although at that time, it was Eller, Galchenyuk and Gallagher who were carrying the team offensively. When that line eventually stop producing, the team as a whole started slumping. The Desharnais line must rise to the occasion, and start scoring. Like ... now.

- Of course, the reliance on one line is somewhat nullified if production comes from other places. Last night it came from P.K. Subban on the powerplay.

- While not producing points, the Habs 4th line has been doing what 4th lines are supposed to do - either to stem or create momentum, and focus on containing the opposition in their zone. The line's hard work generated the Bartkowski holding penalty that resulted in the Subban OT winner.

- Bruins were getting some ridiculously good scoring chances off the rush, largely because the Habs were failing to clog up the passing lanes both at centre ice, and as Bruins forwards were entering the Canadiens' zone. This was largely a result of Habs fowards not being able to retreat fast enough to defend the lanes, which is pretty inexcusable given this team had nearly two weeks of rest. I'm sure the Habs coaching staff will take note during their video reviews today, and make the necessary adjustments.

- There were a couple of areas where the Habs played a very disciplined game. Their shot blocking was excellent for most of the game, in particular blocking Bruins shots off (the few) rebounds surrendered by Price. Perhaps more importantly, the Habs were exceptionally disciplined in not biting on Bruins attempts to fish for retaliation penalties. Staying out of the penalty box will be a critical component of any series victory over Boston.

- Coach Therrien noted that he thought his team looked rusty, which I largely agree with - the passing was okay, but certainly not as crisp or as accurate as it was against Tampa. I didn't like Therrien's attempts to get his offense producing, much of his focus seemed to be on moving Thomas Vanek around. If your team is rusty, you don't shuffle - you work through it. Vanek, who was moved around starting late in the first period, was eventually reunited with the Desharnais line late in the 3rd, but by that time, it was too late for Vanek and that line to work off the so-called rust.

- The bottom line is pretty clear. The Habs will have to be better - much better, if they hope to win 3 of the next 6 games. Last night Carey Price stole them a victory, but that's not going to continue. It's not reasonable to ask of him, it's not responsible for Therrien and Price's teammates to depend on it.


- Brillaint feed Prust to Plekanec who really needed to bury it. Big missed opportunity.

- Vanek firmly back with Desharnais, but he just doesn't look right.

- This is the kind of game where guys like Gallagher are the heros.

- Compared to first three periods, Habs hanging tough.

- Price Brillaint right pad save. Saves the game. All because of another sloppy neutral zone turnover by Briere.

- Price with three remarkable overtime saves. So far. If the Habs win this, it's all Price.

- Eller line practicaly the only unit producing any offense for their team right now. It's become that bad.

- Brenden Gallagher didn't score the winner, but he saves the game.

- More impact play by Gallagher intercepting the puck in centre and then taken out by a knee check by Paille. Luckily Gallagher isn't hurt, and Habs will get a powerplay.

- Carey Price making enormous saves in that period to give Habs a chance of winning this. Boston pelting the Habs like crazy, but Montreal is living another day - or at least one more period.

- Okay. That's one for Rask.

- Habs 4th line with some great work, and they draw a powerplay.

- SUBBAN!!!! A rocket to win the game.

- No way the Habs win the game if it wasn't for one Carey Price.

- Because we mentioned it wayyyy back in the first period, note that it was the Plekanec line who were on when the winning goal was scored. 


- Well, Boston has had some pretty impressive third periods this season, a major reason for their final points total in the standings.

- Bruins are overthinking this on the rush. Gotta be the Price (in their heads) effect.

- Seeing eye shot by Smith puts Boston on the board. Nothing you can do about those. Well, Emelin could have cleared traffic better, I suppose.

- Three or four minutes after a goal makes is when this Boston team is most dangerous. Habs will have to weather another storm, and a Bruins powerplay.

-'Excellent kill there. That might be enough to get them through the onslaught.

- Briere with killer neutral zone turnover. Resulting rush the B's tie it.

- The onslaught was not weathered. The two goal lead has been a curse this spring.

- Habs need to be philosophical - they have a tie game in the third period, and are but one shot away from winning home ice advantage. 

- Still not sure what the deal with Vanek is. I think Therrien needs to reunite him with Desharnais. Habs have nothing going right now, offensively.

- All four lines rolling for a Boston. Third goal is inevitable unless the Habs find a way of changing the game's tempo in a hurry.

- Emelin hurt by a shot taken off the hand. Is in the dressing room.

- Habs need gut check play here - one of their character guys. Somebody. Something.

- Bouillon. Right on cue. Wait, Bouillon??? 3-2.

- Vanek back with Desharnais.

- UH. How was that not a penalty for the Bourque mugging?? Looked like knee contact.

- Price had that deer in the headlights look going after the Bruins tied it. Seems to be more settled now.

- Bruins desperate crash Price like crazy, refs don't intervene and Boychuk ties it with a point bullet. Oy.

- Vanek must be hurt. That must be the explanation.

- Overtime it is, then. Heckova game, but the bottom line is the Habs did not come back physically like they needed to in the third, and the Bruins steamrolled their way back into this.


- Bruins slightly improved their Fenwick percentage to 56% in the period (compared to 53% they had against Columbus). Habs dropped from 56% registered against Tampa, to 46% in that period. But those numbers aside, the Habs played their strengths well, plus Carey Price (of course).

- Habs defense doing good job blocking rebound tries, forwards deflecting shots away.

- Weaver with a monster shift blocking three great scoring chances, and then the Habs generate that neutral zone turnover with Bourque scoring yet another one. Rask really beaten clean and badly there. 2-0.

- Bourque goal has really sparked this team. TD Gardens very quiet right now.

- Vanek is dropped to the 4th line, which is somewhat shocking.

- Marchand sticks Subban in the face, and the refs blow the call.

- Habs simply not biting on the Bruins baitings. This is awesome.

- Thierrien sending Vanek the message to step it up. I fully expect to see him right back with Desharnais.

- Different tact now for Boston: hit everything in sight. Trying to overrun the Habs, create energy, momentum, and hopefully, goals.

- Gorges nabbed for a hold. Woulda figured the refs were giving the Habs a free pass after blowing the Marchand cross, but nope.

- Tremendous pressure and great chances for the Bruins on the powerplay, but Price, who brought his elite game to the Gardens tonight, with wonderful saves.

- Dammit, P.K. needs to stop focusing on making huge hits - he's not making contact and it's generating scoring chances for Boston.

- Bruins really dominated the period - Habs did some great shot blocking, but they ran into lots of problems when the Bruins turned up the physical play a couple of notches. After the physical barrage, the Habs played the final 7 minutes on their heels, bailed out by Price. Habs need to be more assertive and defiant of Boston throwing the body around - I'm please they aren't retaliating, but they must push back physically. The game is still in a razor's edge.


- Hey, hey, now, now. Doug Murray is a scratch.

- Moen will play, Bournival will sit. So the lineup tonight is exactly the same as it was against the Tampa series, except for the 4th line switch.

- Bruins come out with fury, no surprise. Habs need to weather the first 10 game minutes.

- Julien playing Bruins first line heavy early. Also no surprise. Boston wants to score as early as possible.

- Very good first series shift by the Eller line, Rask good save off Bourque.

- Briere out with Prust and Gallagher. Interesting. 

- Terrible shift for Bouillon, hit like a rag doll, coughs up the puck, can't find position, and Bruins come within a whisker of scoring.

- Habs fans would be wise to keep an eye on the Pleks line - they could have a major say with tonight's final score.

- Bruins fans are holloring dive, no doubt. But Weise was hacked to the ice. Here're one of those Habs series keys coming up - scoring on the man advantage.

- Subban with a seemingly harmless wrister sneaks its way through a screen (I think?). Rask should have had that? 1-0. Habs powerplay clicks.

- So there you have it. Habs survive first 10 minutes, capitalize on the powerplay, and now appear to be dictating tempo.

- Gallagher with an excellent period - generating scoring chances, and getting into the faces of Boston's biggest bullies.

- Habs transition looks sharp, and it's giving Boston trouble. Canadiens have dominated the puck since the period half mark.

- Price with some outstanding saves in the period, and I sense frustration setting in on the Bruins side of the ice.

- Boston clearly targeting Subban. He must remain cool, not retaliate.

-  That was an excellent period for the Habs. They held the fort early, took advantage of the powerplay, and then dominated tempo. Good neutral zone presence, very good transition play. One of the better road periods they've played all year.



10 days. Man. That’s way too long.

Relief, however, is arriving with Game One of the Eastern Conference Semi Final, Habs and Bruins in a playoff showdown. For the 34th time in League history.

With all that time to consider the confrontation at hand, a great deal of focus the past few days has been on whether the Habs can someone find a way of beating the mighty President’s Award-winning Bruins.

The speculation, at least within the constrict of whether the Habs have a sliver of a chance, has puzzled me.

Why the befuddlement? Because, at least in this writer's mind, the Habs are going to win this series.

First, let’s clear the obvious stuff out of the way.  Yes, the Bruins finished with the most points of any other League team (although they did with a  weaker schedule compared to teams in the West), and yes, the Bruins’ biggest strength is its roster depth. The acquisition of Jarome Iginla, who’s had a significant impact in bolstering an already potent offense, has made the Bruins a most difficult team to contain – during the regular season.

Plus Tukkaa Raask, whom with his Vezina nomination, has obviously been very good.

Funny thing though. Along the way towards finishing on top of the League, the Bruins were fit to be tied when playing the Canadiens. Four times they met this year, and three times they lost. So, what gives?

It’s actually nothing mythical, mystical or mysterious. The Bruins lost to the Habs this season because they don’t match up very well against the speedier, more skilled Montreal lineup.

Sure, the Bruins have significant advantages in how they can deploy their assets – when you have lots of options, you can make significant adjustments, even in game mid-flight. But the Bruins do have weaknesses, which often don’t get as much attention as they deserve.

First and foremost, the Bruins defense, solid, but slow. They do a fine job protecting their crease and winning puck battles in the corners, they can be an intimidating bunch. I mean, led by the 6’9 troglodyte Zdeno Chara, how can you not be second guessing yourself digging for a loose puck near the boards?

But - they have been very vulnerable in adjusting to defending the rush. Because the Bruins defense depends so much on using their size and physical intimidation, by paradox this team performs well defending against bigger sized players. It makes sense. The larger your target, the easier they are to hit. The Habs smaller sized forwards, for once, can leverage their smaller sized stature to an advantage. That’s why I’m expecting the likes of David Desharnais, Daniel Briere, Briant Gionta and Thomas Plekanec to shine in this series. Don’t be surprised if larger players including  the seemingly reborn Rene Bourque, regress slightly in the series – insofar as their point totals are concerned.

The key to exploiting this Bruins weakness is for the Habs to continue to play an effective transition game (just like they did against Tampa), and strong play in the neutral zone to help create turnovers.

Secondly, the Bruins are – and let’s be honest, a boorish collection. They are not afraid to play a dishonest game if it results in victory. Ergo, the dives and dirty stick work. The Boston mouthpiece media has been cranking up the noise machine this week in an attempt to reverse the narrative by defining the Habs as divers.  But we know the score – and seen the evidence. There’s certainly plenty there – just type in “Bruins divers” in Youtube, and enjoy the shows.

The point being here that a boorish team is also prone to a lack of discipline. Get them off their game, give them a taste of their own medicine, and they lose focus. The Habs did a very good job of that this season, drawing Boston into silly retaliation penalties, and causing the Bruins the lose focus on playing the game their way.

The keys? Well, it’ll depend an awful lot on the players who have the capacity to drive the Bruins to mental desperation.  So keep a keen eye on the likes of the so-called agitators. Brandon Prust, Brendon Gallagher, P.K. Subban, and Travis Moen will play an important role in determining whether the Habs win the series via frustrating their opponent.

Exploiting the Bruins’ two biggest failings also is contingent on taking advantage of the resulting opportunities. This mean the Habs powerplay MUST start producing at rate that more reflected their regular season totals – slightly under 20%. If the Habs are able to score on the man advantage, they will have realized a massive series advantage.  

The series will be close. It would be physical. It’ll probably be dirty. But it will be won by a Canadiens’ team whose symmetry seemed to all come together at the very best possible time.

The time really is now for the Montreal Canadiens. I believe at the end of the day, aided by an expected stellar performance by Carey Price, they will win this series in 6 games.

Puck drops at 7:40 EST. Wear your jersey people. And cheer hard. Because this playoff season is starting to feel special.


- So Carey Price is a child molester? You keep staying classy, Boston. 

- PANIC PANIC PANIC PANIC. Max Pacioretty did not participate in this morning's skate in Boston. Therrien will be giving an update. Oy, oy, oy. UPDATE: MAX IS FINE, says coach Therrien. Just took the morning off. 






You stay classy, Boston.

WEDNESDAY NEWS AND NOTES:Series eve!! The anticipation mounts. We'll be posting a series preview, maybe today - likely tomorrow. Depends on how non-lazy I feel. In the meantime, we've got a few updates:

- Habs a.m. practice, and the drill lines were exactly the same as what we saw during the Tampa series, with Doug Murray again paired up with Jarred Tinordi. This does not mean that Murray won't play - but it does give us a morsel of a hint that Therrien might be edging towards going with the same D-line pairs tomorrow night.

- Alex Galchenyuk practiced this morning - although it was pretty light. This means that 1) rehabilitation progress is being made BUT 2) given how light his drills were, he's nowhere close to being in game shape. Um ... round 3 maybe??

- Bruins fans and the people who cover them are shameless. But hey - you knew that already.




So it's been a week. A whole week since the  Habs wrapped up their series against Tampa. 7 days!!

It's been a lovey siesta, but all good things must, invariably, come to an end.

So here we go. Habs and Bruins. For the 34th time in playoff history.

It's looking more and more as though game 1 will probably be played on Friday evening, so in anticipation of the big puck drop, we'll be putting up as many news and notes, stats and drivel - leading right up to the puck drop on Friday, or whenever game one occurs.

In the meantime, let's leave you with this little tidbit. Lots of lazy analysis going on right now about how the Bruins will dominate this series because of their massive size advantage. Well, consider this. The average weight of the Bruins roster heading into game one is 206 pounds. The average for the Habs, without Doug Murry in the lineup, is 199 pounds. With Murray? It's 202 pounds.

So that massive advantage? 6 pounds. Or maybe 3.

More in a bit.

- UPDATE: Lots of speculation this morning that the League is aiming to have the series start on Saturday. At noon. Ick. Bruins have played 14 afternoon games this season, and have won 12. Habs have played 4 this season, and have won exactly zero. Thanks, Gary.

- EARLY EVENING UPDATE: So the series schedule is out!! And it's ... disappointing (slightly). Here it is:

Game One: Thursday May 1 (Boston - 7:30 p.m.)
Game Two: Saturday May 3 (Boston - 12:30 p.m.)
Game Three: Tuesday May 6 (Montreal - 7:00 p.m.)
Game Four: Thursday May 8 (Montreal - 7:00 p.m.)
*Game Five: Saturday May 10 (Boston - TBA)
*Game Six: Monday May 12 (Montreal - 7:00 p.m.)
*Game Seven: Wednesday May 14 (Boston - TBA)

So, there's a potential for at least one, perhaps two afternoon games in this series, both in Boston. The Bruins, FWIW, have won 12 of 14 afternoon games played this season (at home), while Montreal is 0-4. That ain't very encouraging.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome, even anonymously. All I ask is that you behave, and in support of good taste, avoid the use of course language, or express opinions that are just plain silly (racist, sexist, etc.)