Thursday, 29 May 2014

Game Six - EC Finals: Habs vs. Rangers


Bergevin presser due to start at any minute now. We'll be posting comments as he speaks and answers questions.

- Dodges question about what areas he's looking to address in the off season. Instead mentions how valuable the deep run in the post season was for the young players (which is true).

- "Leadership is slowly shifting in the room", perhaps an indication that Gionta won't be pursued this summer?

- "I'm happy with him overall". Bergevin on Vanek. Not much of an endorsement, was it?

- Weise had concussion, says Bergevin. To the surprise of ... no one.

- Mentions the team does not yet have the maturity to compete for a championship. Ties in well with his comments about the value of a deep playoff run, but might also indicate that he'll want to keep a few veteran pieces around (Markov? Ugh ... Murray?!).

- Bergevin doesn't think, unlike other certain NHL clubs, that the Habs are a "guarantee playoff team."

- Won't talk about anyone's contract status. End of story. Sigh.

- Man, this guy just doesn't disclose anything.

- Oh, he disclosed this. Michel Therrien will be back behind the bench next season.

- Bergevin getting pressed about how Dale Weise was handled after taking the head hit. Very defensive, borderline testy. His body language was definitely very negative the more he was pressed.

- Mentions leaders in the room - in order of mention: Plekanec, Gorges, Price, Subban, Pacioretty. Not mentioned - Markov, Prust.

- Bergevin on Therrien: "He did an excellent job, I support him. I'm a big believer in team work."

- ANNNNNNNND ... that's it. If you learned anything new from that 45 minutes of nothing, please let us know.


Some impressions after the players talked to the media today (updated as the players are interviewed).

- Andrei Markov wouldn't speak. Make of that as you will.

- P.K. Subban says he wants to play the rest of his career in Montreal. HOLD ON SIGN HERE P.K. .. RIGHT THERE ... ON THAT BOTTOM LINE.

- Carey Price kept towing the line, saying he has a lower body injury. The secrecy is ridiculous - everyone and their goat knows that Price suffered a knee injury, but still, teams and their players (especially the Canadiens) won't disclose. Do the Habs fear that Price's right knee will be targeted next season? Anyway, Price said he was "really close" to returning, and mentioned that he regretted not leaving Game 1 immediately after being crashed by the Rangers.

- Dale Weise was not available to even talk today, which gives you a pretty good idea about the state of his health right now. Terrible. Just terrible.

- Not surprisingly, Thomas Vanek got a lot of attention. He set the record straight about his play, it wasn't because of injury he said, but that he lacked chemistry after being taken off the DD/Pacioretty line. In essence, it wasn't entirely his fault, it was Therrien's. He was coy about next season, saying he's looking forward to choosing his own destination, and wouldn't rule Montreal out as a possible final choice (not gonna happen, though).

- Peter Budaj expressed disappointment at being passed over to replace Carey Price in the playoffs, but said he wanted to come back next year to honor the final season of his three year contract. Budaj's been a well-established great teammate, but the decision to either trade or waive him has probably already been made.

- Frankie Bouillon said he wants to play one more season in the NHL, and he's hoping it's in Montreal. Always great to have aspirations, Frank, but ...

- Brian Gionta used a lot of past tense when talking about playing with the Habs. I guess that's a sign about where things are headed?

- Mike Weaver strongly indicated he'd like to come back. Mike, please come back?

- Doug Murray said he was disappointed he couldn't contribute more. By playing less would have helped.

- Travis Moen was sad. But he said he'll keep in game shape over the summer.

- George Parros knows he's done in Montreal. Said as much.

Truth be told, as these kinds of events go, none of learned anything today we didn't already know or suspect.



Next year though, different kettle of fish. Lots of decisions to be made coming up in short order. I'll be posting about that soon. DON'T GO AWAY.

New York 1, Montreal 0:


- Might as well throw the whole kitchen sink at the Rangers to start this powerplay. Feed the puck towards the slot, and crash Lindqvist and that net like there's no tomorrow. Which, there isn't. Right now.

- Kind of a bad time for the Habs to have their worst powerplay of the season.

- No shots on goal through 6 minutes. Just dismal. Tokarski doing his part keeping this season alive, but he can't keep doing this. Habs offense need to show some kind of life.

- Rangers are just swarming the Habs, in the Montreal zone, and in particular, at centre ice. New York just waiting in the weeds, intercepting passes, and suffocating any semblance of a Canadiens transition/rush. It's not quite desperate mode, there's still eight minutes left, but the Habs, at about the 15 minute mark, will have to start taking crazy chances to tie this game.

- That all said, Habs bench showing not a lot of signs of life. It's as though they're already resigned to their fate. Which is nuts, given it's just 1-0.

- Who woulda figured the Habs needed to send out their checking line tonight to contain the Rangers 4th?

- And ... Prust goes to the box with a suspicious tripping penalty. But still, he shouldn't have had his stick in that position to begin with. It not only puts the Habs down a man with 5 minutes left, it also nullified a breakout play the other direction. Just awful.

- Habs just couldn't muster anything up tonight offensively. The gas tank was empty. And the season comes to an end.


- Pacioretty with some poor passing choices kills Habs zone possession and powerplay opportunities.

- Bourque someone misses a soft pass for a clear cut breakaway. That's a huge miss.

- Too many soft and sloppy plays by Beaulieu tonight. If he keeps it up, it could terminally burn the Habs.

- Richards with a sneaky play skating into Subban's stick and toppling over. Fools the official and Rangers go back to the powerplay.

- Holy crap, Habs just barely survived that PK.

- Start of 2nd much like the start of the first, with the Rangers dominating puck possession and generating wonderful scoring opportunities. New York scoring the first goal almost seems inevitable unless something dramatic happens in favour of the Habs.

- Like the first, sense Habs finding some footing here, but still have been unable to generate shots that are testing Lundqvist. They need to look for something dirty and messy before it's too late.

- Brilliant Habs PK off a Rangers dive powerplay. Habs seemingly with the mo' on their side. Can they convert?

- Dominic Moore, Rangers 4th line, take advantage of exhausted Markov and bumbling Bouillon to score the critical first goal. Will that end the Habs season?

- Officials blow Lundqvist playing the puck in the no zone. Rough night for the stripes.

- Tough end of the period for the Habs, who seemed to be poised to take the lead after an excellent penalty kill. But an inability to clear the zone (same old story) and some poor reaction/positional play by Bouillon (same old story) gave the Rangers the open door they were seeking. So it's come to this. Habs a goal down, 20 minutes left. They've got nothing left to do but pour whatever is left in the tank onto the Rangers in the 3rd period. The powerplay has an opportunity. There is, as they say, no tomorrow. So lay it all out, and see if it results in one more game Saturday night.


- So Emilin is out, Bouillon and Beaulieu will start.

- Both teams starting their 4th lines. Who wants to bet we have a brawl the first shift?

- Tokarski makes his first huge save in this game and it comes early. Good to get that under his fold. All Rangers so far, as expected.

- That's an inane call on Gionta who takes a stick to the face. Just crazy.

- Rangers set up nicely, but Habs PK defenders able to keep hard shots off Tokarski. Nonetheless, Habs are just barely hanging on here, trying to survive the first 10 minutes without surrendering a goal. If they can get past that mark, they have a fighting chance.

- Well, we're past that point and the Habs still full of jitters. Tokarski holding the fort, but Canadiens need a momentum change before it's too late.

- 5 minutes left, Habs finally find their game, two straight shifts of good pressure in the Rangers zone. Eller line really skating well tonight.

- Habs get late period PP, Therrien sends out Vanek. For some reason.

- Habs surrendering far too many great shot chances. Markov on that powerplay, Vanek much earlier in the period. The Habs apparently have forgotten about game 5 success of getting the puck on Lundqvist.


One more night, one more elimination wall to scale.

We've been here before, three times and counting. This Habs team seems to, shall we say, "respond" to the pressure, outscoring their opponents 14-5 this post-season in elimination games. That's kind of really, really impressive.

Tonight, there's another animal to tackle, and that's supermodel (and also NHL goaltender) Henrik Lundqvist. Now, I don't have to inform the readers that "King" Henrik didn't exactly have his best outing two nights ago, giving up 4 goals, all of them of the questionable variety. In response to that game, which included his removal in the middle of the 2nd period, many from the Rangers camp have pained to point out that Lundqvist has a very good rebound record, when coming off rough single game starts.

Tuesday's start certainly didn't help Henrik's bottom line, his GAA rising from 1.93 this post-season, to 2.36, while his save percentage dropped from .934 to .920. Those two numbers still rank him top of the League at his position, but they also represent a defined irrelevancy - he had a terrible start, predicated on, and affected by, nothing previous to what happened on Tuesday night.

So if Lundqvist's bottom line stats are truly irrelevant, so too, at least in this writer's opinion, are his "rebound" stats after having a rough start. Lundqvist didn't play well, but his teammates didn't play particularly well, either. The Habs had a field night creating multiple offensive zone turnovers, mainly due to sloppy backend puck control and passing. Passive rush positioning didn't help matters much either, witness Bourque's 2nd (and game winning goal) against Cam Talbot:

That's some pretty awful defense by the Rangers, right there. It represents an interest twist in this series, especially in comparison to what we witnessed in Game One, when the Rangers speed demolished the Habs sluggish zone coverage. So trends be considered, there are many key components in how this series has ebbed and flowed. Instead of the Rangers dominating the Habs with their speed, it's now the Habs forwards that have figured out a way to penetrate their way directly through the New York slot.

So what does this all mean? It means the Rangers are now the team that's forced to make adjustments to their game approach. It means it's the Rangers who will now have to make the necessary adjustments to contain the Habs rush. It means it's up to Henrik Lundqvist to find a way to stop the puck.

If the Rangers make those adjustments, this series ends tonight.

But Lundqvist. So much of tonight will be him.

Remember, King Henrik was unbeatable Game Two.

But that was nearly two weeks ago.

Since then, and tonight?

Puck drops at 8:10 EST.


Hey. Happy game day. Another day! Will it be our last for three long, mournful months?

Some game day stuff to pass your way.

- Dale Weise will not play tonight, after sustaining the head shot courtesy the now series suspended John Moore. Brandon Prust, who's served his two game suspension, will draw in.

- Carey Price was on the ice and practicing this morning as MSG, leading to yet more baseless speculation by people who have nothing better to do, that he might play tonight. He, of course, will not be playing tonight. Or Saturday, for that matter.

- With Moore now gone, guess who draws in? Raphael Diaz. How 'bout that? The Habs, as you remember, dealt Diaz off earlier in the season for ... Dale Weise who ... won't be playing tonight because ... man, you can just taste the irony here.

- Alexei Emelin may or may not play tonight. Nobody knows. Nobody is saying. I, for one, am just fine with leaving him out of the lineup if it means that Nathan Beaulieu can get another start. Maybe Therrien would be willing to scratch Bouillon instead?

More, including game preview, in a bit.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Game Five - EC Final: Rangers vs. Habs


He's also likely to be facing a couple of games in the press box courtesy a head butt. Get these idiots out of the game, already.


- Gotta say, I'm really surprised that Lundqvist didn't start the third. Perhaps Vigneault senses that his goaltender is tiring? Lundqvist has played a lot of games over a pretty short period of time.

- Rene Bourque, with a hat trick? Nobody could write this stuff. Great feed by Weise off another neutral zone turnover by the Rangers, great shot by Bourque into the corner. The Habs have a critical 2 goal lead. 6-4.

- Fans flood the ice with hats, which the Rangers will take, thank you very much. Gives them a free timeout to recompose themselves. And now Gorges takes a dumb penalty. It ain't over.

- Man, you just know the Rangers are going to score on this powerplay. You can feel it all over.

- Absolutely crucial PK for Habs here. The season on the line.

- Rangers allowed to set everything up. Not good. It's unbearable to even watch.

- And now Bouillion gets nabbed for holding. Rangers with HUGE 33 second 5-on-3. Avert your eyes.

- Tokarski coming up huge, here. Habs almost through this.

- What an absolutely massive kill by the Canadiens. Weise, however, hurt by a high hit by Moore. It's a five minute, intent to injure penalty against Moore. That will almost be reviewed by the League for further discipline.

- Habs being ultra careful with the 5 minute advantage. Too careful. One more goal will totally put this game to bed. But they can't get zone possession set.

- Eller called for an incredible hold with 1:30 left in the major. I didn't see the penalty. Amazing call.

- Markov with another poor judgement play, bad pinch creates another odd man break for the Rangers. New York pulls their goalie. Nervous times here.

- Desharnais hits the scoresheet to clinch the game. WE LIVE ANOTHER DAY, BABY.

- Lars Eller kind of goes off the rails, with a brutal board on Zuccarello. The Rangers go back on the powerplay, their net empty. Less than 3 minutes left, though.

- Tokarski has done a pretty good Carey Price impersonation on frequent occasions tonight, four goals in, aside.

- Well, an amazing win tonight. A roller coaster victory, extreme. But a win nonetheless. The Habs face a massive challenge in less than 48 hours, as they battle to force a deciding game at home. But they've somehow clawed their way to stay alive. A win, in this writer's opinion, will give them a significant advantage for a game 7. But they need to win more ... just ... one more.

If you read the pregame preview, you'll see I noted how critical it would be for those who haven't produced, to finally get on the scoresheet. Well, there you have it. Bourque, Plekanec, Desharnais, Gallagher, et al, finally found a way. If they can somehow keep this up ... well ... who knows? Anything is possible.


- Silly interference by Markov. Rangers go to the powerplay, and nearly score because Habs PK continues to play far too passively. This will eventually hurt the Habs if they continue to draw penalties.  

- Brilliant, absolutely brilliant effort and blind pass by Gallagher to Pacioretty, who snaps a shot through Lundqvist's five hole. 3-1. Not the strongest game of the postseason so far for King Henrik.

- Bourque! After Rangers powerplay explores, fine work by Vanek and Eller behind the net, to wide open Bourque. Habs with big 4-1 lead. Key players who absolutely needed to deliver, coming through in aces tonight.

- Lundqvist apparently is yanked, and the Rangers getting very frustrated after the whistle. It's all been going very wrong for New York so far tonight.

- Lundqvist gets the hook before the game is half over. That's sort of incredible, if you think about it.

- Plekanec should have made it 5-1, and seconds later, Gorges makes a careless deflection of a soft pass into his own net. Instead of a four goal lead, it's two.

- I haven't bought into the CW what Markov is playing "tired", but he was completely manhandled going back after a simple chip in. The Rangers narrow the lead to one, and everyone in the Bell Centre gets very, very quiet.

- And now the Rangers go to the powerplay. Plekanec. Oh boy.

- Rangers are gonna score on this. You just know it. They're gonna tie it.

- Yup. Kreider. That passive PK finally burns the Habs. Tie game. Incredible.

- Speaking of incredible, Bourque gives the lead back to the Habs, a fine shot just off the post, Talbot struggling to find depth and angle. It's 5-4.

- These two are just going to slug each other until the death. I'm thinking a 6-5 final. I'm also thinking that Lundqvist will be coming back in to start the 3rd period.

- That 2nd period. I don't even know where to start. The Habs clearly thought the game was won, after Lundqvist was pulled. The bench saw that switch, and read it as though the Rangers had decided to wave the white flag. The following letdown was absolutely unforgivable. In an elimination game, you play to your maximum, regardless if your lead is one, or three goals. These players surely are aware of the blown leads in this post-season. What were they thinking? In any case, look for Lundqvist to start the 3rd, and the Habs to feel the full brunt of Rangers pressure. Canadiens are going to need at least one more goal to have a good chance of sending this series back to New York.


- Well how about this, Therrien shifts the chairs on the defensive deck, bringing in Beaulieu, and sitting Emelin. Goodness.

- Derek Stepan appears to be in playing with Kreider and Nash. Oscar Lindberg is out.

- Mike Weaver gets another promotion - he'll play along side Andrei Markov.

- 22 seconds in Kreider with a slew foot. Because, Kreider.

- Finally. Habs get zone possession on the powerplay, and Galchenyuk tips in a Subban cannon. Habs get critical first (and early) goal.

- Habs way faster, also generating piles of turnovers in the Rangers zone. Very impressive.

- Tokarski with his best, perhaps the best save of any Habs goaltender this spring. Happened all because Markov made a silly, silly pinch. Keeps Habs ahead, while the Rangers seem to be working through early game jitters.

- Beaulieu, cool, calm, collected, and very fast tonight. Such a shame he was a scratch for so many games this spring in favour of Murray and Bouillon.

- Stepan. Really? Ouch. Tokarski whiffs. And the game is tied.

- Plekanec. There you are. 2-1. Lundqvist taken totally by surprise.

- Habs continue to rely on chipping the puck up the boards to clear the zone, the Rangers continue to anticipate this crude approach.

- Questionable roughing call on Desharnias, to say the least. Rangers get late period powerplay.

- New York SO much more effective gaining the zone with the man advantage, Habs PK way too indifferent. They have to make an immediate adjustment, starting first with being far more aggressive in the neutral zone. Make the Rangers shoot, rather than carry in.

- End of the first. Mission accomplished for the Habs. Scored early, have the lead. Nice to see Plekanec hit the scoresheet - his production is an important first step toward the Habs earning some victories. Still waiting, however, for some signs of life from Vanek and Gionta. Also wouldn't hurt if Desharnais and Pacioretty could start clicking again. They most certainly didn't that first period.


It's been quite a journey this year, and tonight, the road towards a 25th Stanley Cup in Montreal might come to a dead end, unless the Canadiens can muster up another elimination game victory against the New York Rangers.

There are few things left to disseminate. The Rangers have beat the Canadiens at their own game, combining speed and a strong forecheck, while limiting defensive turnovers in their own zone. Append a strong and accurate transition game, something the Canadiens don't excel at, and it equals a mostly well-deserved 3-1 series lead.

While hopes for recovery are dim, the Habs do have some shades of hope centered on the arrival of players who have simply failed to produce, not just in this series, but in the playoffs as a whole. We all know about the Vanek story - that's old. But a couple of forwards who haven't received nearly enough attention for their lack of production simply must find a way to start producing. Right now.

Those two? Tomas Plekanec, who's had a dreadful series against the Rangers, and Captain Brian Gionta, who's had .. well ... a dreadful playoffs, period. Both veterans, who've received regular shifts each and every game of this post season, have not lived up to expectation. Not nearly.

Plekanec, who headed into the series with a modest 7 points in 11 playoff games, has scored just one assist against New York, and posted a -3 (for that matter, an accumulative -7 for the post-season, and this for the guy many thought was deserved a Selkie Trophy nomination this season), and an accumulative 43% Corsi (all situation). That's bad for a supposed two-way centre. Meanwhile, the situation for Gionta is even more dire. Just 6 points in 15 games, only one goal.  Now, Gionta wasn't exactly a goal-scoring machine at the best of times, as his age has risen, his production totals have fallen off the cliff - this year, a GPG average of just .22. But to go from scoring a .22, to a .06? That's dismal.

So the situation is pretty straightforward. The Habs badly need the producers to produce. Plekanec, Gionta, toss in Pacioretty, still looking for Desharnais to score, wondering where Rene Bourque has disappeared to .. well, you get the idea.

If ... and this is a big if ... but if those guys, and maybe Vanek, can register some actual offense tonight, the Habs stand a very good chance of extending this series to Thursday night. This means producing on the powerplay, a factor that probably cost the Habs game 4, this means putting more bodies in even tighter against Henrik Lundqvist, and it means a more aggressive contribution from the Habs defense, in the form of pinching the line more frequently to maintain zone pressure against this Rangers team.

Otherwise, this is it. The end of the road will have been reached. It's been a heckova ride, but it doesn't have to end. It shouldn't end.

Puck drops at 8:10 EST.


HEY, guess who was in full gear skating this morning? THIS GUY:

Okay, so it's just part of the whole rehab process, and yes, there's no way in heaven's earth he'll play tonight, or Thursday ... or in this series (we think), but still - his presence surely serves as a positive motivator for his teammates. It's telling them - "hey guys, you can still do this. You can still win this series and get to the Finals, and then have me between the pipes for a championship run."

So that's all nice to see. What else is going on?

- Michel Therrien ran his practice without set lines, for whatever reason. I guess to put a shroud of mystery around a lineup that everyone already knows about?

- Derek Stepan HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE AND WILL PLAY.  Less than 100 hours after MAJOR face surgery after a DEVASTATING hit (not to the head) delivered by Brandon Prust (who's still suspended), Stepan will play! INCREDIBLE!! IT'S A MIRACLE I TELLZ YA!!

More in a bit.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Game Four - EC Final: Habs vs. Rangers


- Subban cracked the half hour mark through 30 minutes. Expect him to play every other shift from here on out.

- What a dumb penalty by Pouilot. Wow.

- All Habs in this OT. Lots of pucks at Lundqvist. Looking for a game winning bounce.

- And there you have it. Habs 4th line unable to clear the zone after multiple chances, and St. Louis finally solves Tokarski at the greatest possible time. Emelin probably the biggest failing culprit. Heartbreak. Pure heartbreak.

- So much Emelin did wrong on that last sequence, but whatever. He is what he is, what's done is done. The Habs ultimately were undone by their inability to capitalize on multiple powerplay opportunities. The game itself really shouldn't have even required an overtime. The Habs forwards, and there were many, just didn't do their jobs, didn't put out their best effort, and didn't deliver a victory that was so hard fought for by the remarkable Dustin Tokarski. That's the real tragedy in all of this. Tokarski has come to the Habs goaltending rescue, but too many of his linemates have failed to hear and respond to his heroics.


- So Pacioretty has 15 minutes through 2 period, Therrien obviously sensing an impending breakout (man, Max .. if there was ever a time ...). Vanek. You remember him? He used to play beside Max. Just over 7 minutes. 

- Here we go. Early powerplay chance.

- SUBBAN. LE CANNON. Tie game.

- Rangers continue to be besieged by penalties, mainly trips, and the officials are calling everything. While they haven't converted in all of the 7 received so far (except 1, of course), it's given the Habs plenty of tempo in this period, the Rangers spending most of the time so far on the defensive. Tokarski hasn't had much work ... yet ... but with the game settling, that'll change.

- Vanek's effort level right now is just slightly that above a sloth. At this point, he's dangerous to even shift. Therrien would be wise just to staple him to the bench.

- Period winds down, mainly controlled by the Habs, but it's a nervous finish. Looks like the game, and quite possibly the series, will be determined by a mistake.

- Lots of warriors out there for the Habs tonight, but also a lot of floaters. The difference is pretty stark.

- Sweet jesus of christ, Therrien puts out Briere, Vanek and Bourque with less than a minute left. What IS HE THINKING!?

- Well, the mission, at least the important part, was accomplished by the Habs. They tied the game, and will get their shot of taking some control over this series if they can score the next goal. But that won't come easy. This has been an extraordinary game with some incredible physical battles for the puck. These teams are pushing each other to their respective outer limits, and for hockey aficionados, it's been a joy to watch. The bottom line is that the Habs have been the better team since the start of the 2nd period, and are on the cusp of making a remarkable series recovery.


- Amother sluggish start to the period for the Habs, their collective legs simply not moving.

- Habs bright spot - their PK. Rangers have decent passing but unable to penetrate the Montreal crease for a high chance scoring opportunity.

- Rick Nash barrels into Tokarski, full speed. When will this madness stop?

- Habs better this frame than last. Still getting outskated, but they appear to be more involved defensively - New York not nearly as free wheeling. Right now it appears the Habs are sticking around, looking for a mistake.

- And there it is, Rangers defense make a terrible pinch given Habs a three on one, and Bouillon, of all the players, beats Lundqvist high. Not sure how Therrien is doing this, but the defensive switch pays off.

- Markov shows JT Miller the consequences of taking runs at goaltenders. Face, meet goalpost.

- Rangers look disorganized, maybe even a little stunned, after that tying goal. Habs getting much more puck possession in New York zone now.

- Huge blocker save by Tokarski, about as good as the two gems against St. Louis Thursday night. He's doing about all you could ask and more.

- Vanek really struggled last shift, be interested to see if we see him again anytime soon.

- Tokarski with a sick glove save on a St Louis break - perhaps the best of the playoffs. Oh yeah. A shorthanded break. 

- Bouillon somehow totally misses a shift call as Habs changed after getting the puck deep. Brassard left wide open to receive a 150 foot pass and blasts a slapper past Tokarski. Unstoppable. Unforgivable, really. How Bouillon didn't go out when he was supposed to is utterly perplexing.

- Bouillion giveth, Boullion taketh away. Really shouldn't be surprised by that, but it's particularly maddening given how well the Habs played in that period, fighting to tie, and then very nearly taking the lead off a pretty good late period powerplay. But Bouillon, his head in the clouds, undoes all that hard work. And now the Habs find themselves down a goal with 20 minutes left in a must-win game.


- Confirming what we've already reported, Stepan is out for the Rangers, as well as Beaulieu for Montreal. Bouillon slots in.

- Big question of the night, is Dominic Moore going to make the Habs deeply regret letting him walk four years ago?

- Crazy soft call on Gorges. Officials setting a very bad tone early.

- Habs defense continues to do a lousy job of getting shots on goal, even with the shooting lanes wise open. 

- Habs powerplay simply unable to gain puck possession in the rangers zone, tonight and the entire series. This team's powerplay units go into dreadful funks at the worst possible time.

- What the hell was that? Markov and Subban completely screw the pooch and surrender a shorthanded goal. Abysmal.

- Habs totally manhandled the first 15 minutes - trying to think of a bright spot, all I can find is Tokarski. Otherwise, nothing. All Rangers. This could be another 7-2 final.

- Rangers putting out top line, as we said earlier, whenever Bouillon hit the ice. New York totally dominating, swarming the Habs like a pack of infuriated bees. Tokarski keeping them in - barely.

Well, we've arrived. The pivotal fourth game of the Eastern Conference Final. The winner tonight gaining a substantial advantage towards determining who will play in the Stanley Cup Final. So a few pregame thoughts:

- By now you've heard about the kerfuffle over the Rangers sending a couple of assistant coaches to scout the Habs practice on Saturday, which is a long established no-no in the NHL playoffs. The coaches were called out mid-practice by Michel Therrien, in a rather loud epitaph containing some rather salty language, as you do if you're Michel Therrien.  The whole incident, including Alain Vigneault's silly expression of innocence today, is pure gamesmanship, mainly on the part of the Rangers. There are, of course, no actual strategic advantages to watching the opposing team practice - both teams know each other inside out, both are fully aware of the other's game plan and their key strategies. Hockey, especially in the post-season, is pure execution. Anyway, the Rangers are clearly doing what they can to get under the skin of the Habs - to that extent, I find attending the Canadiens' team practice totally transparent and juvenile, offering no real benefit, except to tick the Habs off (which might actually backfire).

- More gamesmanship nonsense today over Therrien's comments about being aware of what Derick Brassard's injuries are, the insinuation being that the Habs might try to focus exploiting that injury (upper body, almost certainly a mild shoulder separation). The Rangers took exception, of course, but the bottom line is this: If an opponent has a known weakness, it's your responsibility to focus on that vulnerability to gain advantage. Especially in a seven game series where there are exceptionally narrow differences between the two opponents.

- Although nobody has confirmed, it's a pretty safe bet the reason why Frankie Bouillon is drawing in tonight in place of Nathan Beaulieu is because the Habs rookie defenseman is nursing some sort of an injury. Putting Bouillon on at face value, makes little logical sense. Beside Doug Murray, he's the Habs slowest starting blue liner, which matches up very badly against the Rangers speedy forwards. Fully expect Vigneault and company to do line matching to the extreme whenever Bouillon and his defensive Mike Weaver, take a shift.

- Game Three hero Dustin Tokarski will be asked one more time, to deliver an excellent performance tonight, which is mandatory if the Habs are to stand a reasonable chance of evening the series. Tokarski as we know, was excellent on Thursday night, and his post-game comments were very impressive in how calm he maintained his demeanor. Still, you have to believe that Tokarski, at his age and experience, must be feeling some pretty tremendous pressure - his ability to overcome the focus of five million hopeful fans in Quebec will, more than anything, determine whether he can play the role of hero one more time tonight.

- Michael Bournival also starts tonight for the suspended Brandon Prust, which I think is a significant blessing in disguise. Bournival brings so much more to the table against an opponent like the Rangers, in that he's got tremendous speed, and has proven himself a far more effective checking forward than Prust. I fully expect the Habs to be better in generating more turnovers, and holding their own at centre ice, tonight.

- Speaking of Prust and his suspension, Derek Stepan, who someone sustained a broken jaw after taking a no head contact hit, will not play tonight, which won't be an easy spot to fill for the Rangers offense. They won't be as fast, or as skilled tonight.

- The three day break between games, I believe, were of greater benefit to the Rangers, the extra time allowing them to compose themselves after a disappointing Game Three loss. This is a series very much determined by momentum, and the 72 hour separation didn't do the Habs any favors towards capitalizing against a (somewhat) reeling opponent. If the Canadiens were to win game four, then the Rangers would almost certainly be fit to be tied, the Habs would be heavy favorites to win this series in 6 or 7 games.

Puck drops at 8:10 EST.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Game Three - EC Final: Habs vs. Rangers


- So it's two games for Brandon Prust for his non-head contact hit on Derek Stepan which, inexplicably, somehow broke his jaw. 

- Habs practice lines today, sans Prust:

Line 1: Pacioretty/Desharnais/Gallagher
Line 2: Galchenyuk/Plekanec/Gionta
Line 3: Bourque/Eller/Vanek
Line 4: Bournival/Brière/Weise

No shockers here, Bournival, as we knew, draws in for Prust, and Weise/Vanek trade spots on the 3rd/4th lines.

Markov - Emelin
Gorges - Subban
Bouillon - Weaver

Bouillion. BOUILLON. Good grief, Michel. Why? Why?! WHY!?!?

More later as it comes along.


CBC (Darlene Tokarski)

A few thoughts the morning after the night of the Habs game 3 victory.

- Dustin Tokarski becomes one of the most unlikely heroes you'll ever see. If you pause and think for a moment where Tokarski was just a short time ago, toiling in relative obscurity within the Tampa Bay Lightening organization. Somewhere along the way, Tampa more or less gave up on Tokarski as a long-term project, and shuffled him off to Montreal, in return for another "lost" netminding project in Cedrick Desjardins. While Tokarski did get some NHL work this year, filling in as a backup to Peter Budaj while Carey Price recovered from a knee injury, the premise that anyone in Tokarski's position would not only be playing, but winning a Stanley Cup playoff Conference Finals game is nearly preposterous.

In any case, Tokarski was superb last night - the two pucks that crossed his line were unstoppable. His performance behind a team that was often overwhelmed, has given the Canadiens life, and most importantly, a glimmer of hope where almost none existed last Monday, after the devastating news was delivered that Carey Price would no longer be able to play in the series.

- Habsland, as you might expect, is buzzing with joy over Thursday night's result, although if you look at the bigger picture, it wasn't a particularly impressive victory. The Rangers had their game rolling, especially headmanning the puck out of their zone, and creating multiple turnovers in the Habs zone, which probably would have resulted in a scoreboard thumping if it wasn't for Tokarski's heroics. Surely in reviewing the game tape, the Habs will understand that their performance in game 3 wasn't acceptable, in particular, their total inability to muster together much of anything resembling a transition, and numerous instances where their forwards were dogging it back to cover the Rangers' rush.

- Thomas Vanek. I'm pretty much ready to throw in the towel. Last night's game was truly abysmal for the enigmatic forward. You know it's bad when there's a collective reaction of joy amongst the Habs faithful when Vanek finally got a shot on net during the second period. Vanek was on full coast mode last night, just gliding around the ice, occasionally making semi-hearted efforts digging out pucks along the board, by and large letting his linemates do most the tough work while he drifted around waiting to receive passes that of course, never came. His backchecking was almost non-existent. It was a totally unacceptable performance by a player who's banking on landing a huge free agent contract this summer. I have no idea what Vanek is thinking by going through the motions in a Conference Final, but be assured that there are many League General Managers monitoring this series, who'll have significant second thoughts about offering Vanek anything long-term come this July.

- While Thomas Plekanec got the assist on the overtime winner, he, and his linemate Brian Gionta, have been pretty underwhelming in the series. They certainly haven't done a whole lot to contain the Rangers' speedy forwards, and they've offered very little in the form of an offensive contribution, the biggest culprit being Gionta, who hasn't scored in nearly a month. Michel Therrien has rightly expressed outward frustration about their lack of contributions, but calling them (gently) out doesn't appear to be working. Long-term, Marc Bergevin has some decisions to make this summer, one of them being (I hope) that Gionta is not offered a renewal. His age and steeply declining production levels simply don't warrant the reward.

- Lots of questions this morning about whether Brandon Prust will be suspended following his late open ice hit on Derke Stepan. The reply shows that the hit, while high and clearly illegal (the puck was nowhere near), did not make any direct contact with Stepan's head. I was pretty unimpressed with Stepan's reaction as he lay face down on the ice.  In retrospect, it appears that the Rangers' forward tried to oversell the hit, especially with the over-the-top rant he presented while exiting to the dressing room. The League has formally notified Prust of a telephone hearing, which means he could receive a suspension. I think it's 50/50 that Prust gets a game. We'll see.

- Speaking of hits, what in the heck was Daniel Carcillo thinking after he took a swipe at linseman Scott Driscoll? Stupidity at its finest (or worst).  It's been fascinating to read perspectives from the Rangers' analysis camp, which have downplayed the assault as a mere "shove" at the official. It was no shove. Carcillo punched Driscoll in the face. The League will almost certainly come down hard, suspending Carcillo probably at least 10 games for the act. While Carcillo isn't an integral component to the Rangers' offense, his removal from the series does present a bit of a problem for Alain Vigneault, who's already lost Derick Brassard - possibly for the rest of the series. Minus Brassard and Carcillo, the Rangers offense just got a whole lot smaller and less physical, which might have significant ramifications if we end up playing 6 or 7 games.

 - Speaking of a long series, the magnitude of game four this Sunday cannot be underestimated. The series, in my opinion, will probably be decided by Sunday's outcome. A victory for the Rangers will give them a total stranglehold on the series, a win for Montreal will give them an enormous amount of confidence, momentum, and a restoration of home ice advantage heading back to Montreal. 

Montreal 3, New York 2 (OT)


- See what happen when you fire it at the net? Plekanec, who's had a huge struggle in this series, with a seemingly harmless shot that's redirected by Lundqvist off Galchenyuk's face and in the net. The Habs pull out an amazing, season-saving victory, and are now back in the series. Remarkable.


- Habs incredibly sloppy with the puck, especially in their own zone. This will come back to bite then, eventually.

- Vanek with possibly his weakest effort of the playoffs tonight, if that was even possible. His performance now richly deserved a healthy game 4 scratch.

- Crazy considering how poorly Vanek, Plekanec and Gionta have played tonight, that this game is one goal away from victory.

- Both teams playing extra cautious right now, waiting for a mistake. 

- Vanek ... With a shot on goal? No way.

- Markov with a monster shift to bail the Habs out, and Vanek, unvelievably, feeds Briere who astonishingly banks the puck off Mcdonagh, and Habs take the lead late.

- Tokarski with some astonishing goaltending to protect the lead, and then a feed in front banks off Emelin's skate, and in. Kreider, of all, gets credit. I cannot understand why Emelin was even out there in the first place, or Brain Gionta. What was Therrien thinking? So bitterly disappointing.

- That's a brutal way to surrender a win that would have gotten the Habs back into this series. Devastating.


- Holy moly, Rangers had 68% Corsi in that period. That's horrible (for the Habs, of course). Eller line was particularly bad with the puck, but Plekanec and Gionta were particularly horrid. Man, I'm not sure what it's going to take to right this sinking ship, but Therrien simply must do something to get this team on track. Put Vanek with DD ... just ... something. 

- Habs breakout passing is about as bad as it could possibly be in this game of hockey.

- Habs finally do a proper breakout, and guess what? Goal. Weakish Lundqvist there?

- Desharnais and Pacioretty and Gallagher are working like monsters to score. Again, they're coming agonizingly close.

- Habs at least so far, with a decent bounce back period in comparison to the atrocity that was the first period.

- Kreider takes a run at Tokarski. Does not succeed injuring him. Maybe next time, Rangers fans.

- Habs powerplay picking a particularly bad time to go on summer vacation. Then again sending Plekanec and Gionta out there isn't helping.

- Disgraceful goaltending interference call on Gallagher. What was the referee thinking?

- That terrible call has given Rangers life, and momentum. It's so not fair.

- Kevin Pollock with two absolutely terrible calls on Gallagher in the 2nd period, the latest with just two seconds left, apparently a roughing, mere seconds after Gallagher received a nasty two handed slash from McDonagh.

- Well, a much, much better frame for the Habs, poor officiating notwithstanding. This is the situation the Habs wanted so desperately, a very good game by its starting goaltender, and a game up for grabs. Now, they must seize the opportunity to save their season. The key, I'm speculating, is some kind of production from their dormant powerplay. But that aside, this game can very much be won.


- So reassuring to seek P.J. Stock think that Tokarski is a huge mistake tonight. The last time he was right about anything was ... ?

- So Vanek starts, but on the 4th line beside Prust and Briere, the later of which Vanek played with back in 2006 in Buffalo. Other lineup notables - Bournival out (Therrien, why do you always make this mistake?), and Prust, as mentioned, is in. Oh well.

- Pacioretty drives the net, gets good quality chance on Lundqvist. Exactly more of this, please.

- Desharnais way too cute carrying the puck into the Rangers zone. Less of this, please.

- Prust with a dirty elbow on Stephan at centre ice. He's incessed, so are the Rangers and everyone else on the arena.

- Rangers early momentum. Habs trying to get under New York's skin. Appears to be working.

- Tokarski, so far, so good. That's a good early sign.

- Canadiens with a little chip on their shoulder early. Also a good sign.

- Dorsett chases Prust around looking to even scores. Prust serves him lunch. More good signs.

- Maybe if Vanek were offered ten grand a shot, he'd be willing to SHOOT THE DAMN PUCK.

- Bourque with a terrible shift, just going through the motions. Not acceptable.

- Derek Stephan full of rage over the Prust hit. Borderline out of control right now.

- Thomas Plekanec has dodged a lot of criticsm this series. Not sure why, but he's deserved it for his inability to effectively check the Rangers offense.

- Pacioretty doing all the right things. Excepting beating Lundqvist.  

- Oh P.K., 1-0 Rangers.  

- Deaharnais line has come so close so many times scoring on Lundqvist, it's crazy.

- Well, tough game to figure. New York 14-4 SOG, but only a few were dangerous. Habs seemed too focused on clearing their zone, resulting in too many puck giveaways on the Rangers side of centre ice. Basically, the Habs transition game was MIA that entire period. Still, Tokarski was strong, and we'd be scoreless if it wasn't for Subban muffing his snap shot at the blue line (know Habs puck luck in this series, that shot probably would have gone in). Rangers won the period, but it wasn't quite as dominating as the shot clock might suggest.


See the guy in the picture on the left? Yeah. You remember that guy, don't you? We picked him up on trade deadline day. A bargain, they said. A midling prospect in return for a star forward AND a draft pick. Man. That was some day.

How about the fellow on the right side of the picture? He was also traded away on deadline day, but the price was a tad steeper. Winger Ryan Callahan and two picks were needed to land St. Louis, who's got maybe two years left in his NHL body.

The thing about these trade deadline picks for big named stars is that buyers are more often surrendering known commodities (usually quality young talent and/or draft picks) in exchange for a snippet of elite performers. The price is heavy, but rational as long as the payoff is realized.

Well, it's been nearly three months since that trade deadline, and it's fair to say that based on the events that have led us up to the present, the unquestionable winners of that deadline day are the New York Rangers.

From the onset, it sure didn't look good for New York. Upon arriving with his new team, St. Louis' point production dropped through the floor, scoring a mere single goal and three assists in his first 17 games in a Rangers' uniform. But then, suddenly, on April 8, everything changed. In a relatively meaningless late season game against the Carolina Hurricanes, St. Louis stormed out of the game gate, setting up three Rangers goals on route to a easy victory. Since that date, St. Louis has scored 15 points in 18 games, and more notably, 2 goals and an assist in the first two games versus the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final.

A little further up the highway, Vanek's arrival in Montreal was hailed as a coup for Habs G.M. Marc Bergevin. It was difficult to argue differently. Bergevin gave up just a single prospect to borrow Vanek for a few weeks, which insofar as trade deadline sacrifices are concerned, wasn't exactly surrendering keys the organizational vault. Even though Vanek struggled at first to fit in with his new linemates, first getting paired along side Thomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, where he scored just one assist in five games, Vanek suddenly caught fire when on March 16, coach Michel Therrien put him along side David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty. The net result? A hat trick performance against Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche. With his new linemates, Vanek would score a total of 14 points the last 13 games of the regular season. The star had finally arrived.

But then, a funny thing happened. Vanek, mysteriously, stopped producing. Actually, he seemed to simply lose a skating step, somewhere along the line. Entering the first round of the playoffs, Vanek's point production didn't decrease significantly, but his effectiveness around the puck, and involvement with his linemates simple fell off a cliff. So far was the noted decline in play that Therrien began shuffling Vanek around, moving him down to third line duty, mainly. The net positive effect of this, however, has been pretty close to zero. Vanek's funk has only seemingly deepened.

The team and Vanek himself has repeatedly denied that he suffered an injury somewhere along the way, but I'm not convinced. No player as talented as Vanek can go from being so good, to being so listless and ineffective in such a short period of time. Looking back on scoring chances per possession stats, the turning point came somewhere around March 27th, in a game against Detroit, where somewhere during the second period, Vanek's possession numbers suddenly went very, very south. Something, I'm convinced, happened during that game that was significant enough to change one of the most dangerous snipers in the game of hockey, into a mere average, unremarkable forward.

So now it's come to this. Game three in which the Habs find themselves down 2-0, on the road, without their star goaltender, and badly, desperately needing production from the players who have been counted on to produce.

So tonight, many eyes will be cast down upon the stud acquisition - the player who many had counted on to help his team get over the post-season hump, towards a possible appearance in a Stanley Cup Final. It certainly can't get any worse for Vanek. He mustered up just two scoring chances in game one against the Rangers, the least amongst Habs forwards, and registered zero in game two.

It goes without saying, as goes Thomas Vanek, so too go the fortunes of the Montreal Canadiens.

Puck drops at 8:10 EST. Because NBCSN. 


Happy Wednesday. Here's what's happening in Habsland today.

- Brassard practice! Wow. Hardly anybody from the public came out to watch. That's a pretty good sign local fan enthusiasm has taken a tumble. Habs simply need to win two in New York, and then this practice facility will have to start turning 'em away.

- Morning practice lines. Hmmm ... isn't this interesting?

1: Pacioretty/Desharnais/Gallagher
2: Galchenyuk/Plek/Gionta
3: Bourque/Eller/Weise
4: Prust/Briere/ and Bournival/Vanek rotating.

Wow. Weise gets bumped up to the Eller line (interesting), Bournival draws in for ... Vanek?

I mean, I agree with the general sentiment that Vanek hasn't been a sparkle in everyone's eyes this series, but to scratch him for game 3? That's a pretty radical move.

- Dustin Tokarski will start Game 3. That's a surprise - there's obviously something about Budaj's game that's caused Therrien to lose his confidence in him.

We'll update as the day progresses.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Game Two - EC Final: Rangers vs. Habs

A few bullet point thoughts about last night's loss.

- I've had a night to sleep on it, and have modified my impressions about the two goal loss. The Habs very much outplayed the Rangers, but New York was saved by some remarkable goaltending. Any game that you've managed to direct 41 shots on net, you should win. Last night, it just didn't happen. Lundqvist was in the zone. Puck luck. That's hockey.

- Michel Therrien has been getting a lot of flack about choosing Dustin Tokarski over Peter Budaj, but even in light of the loss, I think he made the correct choice. Yes, Budaj posted a shutout win over the Rangers earlier in the season, but in that game, the Rangers barely registered a scoring chance. I think Therrien rightly looked at Budaj's performance in period 3 of game 1, and rightfully came to the conclusion that 2 of the 3 goals he surrendered in short order, weren't very good. With Tokarski giving the Habs excellent performances in his regular season starts, and of course, the lure of a the possibility of a miracle performance by a young goaltender, a la Steve Penny in '84 and Patrick Roy in '86, it was worth a shot.

- The Desharnais line was simply outstanding last night. He, Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, were giving the Rangers defense all kinds of headaches in their own zone just about every single shift. That line could have easily scored 10 points last night. But ... Lundqvist.

- The Habs also had some quality bounce-back performances last night, most notably Alexi Emelin, who was far more consciousness about protecting his line. The Habs defense as a whole did a far better job stifling the Rangers speed-based rush (save New York's second goal, granted), which also helped reduce the number of breakaways to zero.

- Tough loss, but not a series-ending loss. My initial rant was the mission ahead was impossible, but I'm not quite ready to throw in the towel. The Habs simply must repeat the same performance on Thursday night, and surely, surely they'll win in New York. I'd make a couple of adjustments. First, I'd pull Brandon Prust from the lineup, and insert Michael Bournival, who was one of the Habs few bright spots in game one. I'd also push my forwards to be even more aggressive in crashing the Rangers crease. The Habs need to get bodies around, and even into Lundqvist's face. Take a couple of goaltending interference penalties if necessary, but do whatever is required to get Lundqvist off his game.

This thing isn't quite over yet, you guys.

New York 3, Montreal 1:


- Well, if there was ever a time when scoring on the powerplay was a must, this one to start the third probably qualifies. Hell hill to climb here.

- Nope. Decent try, some crease crashing but desperation just not there. Habs need to be desperate, starting now.

- No way Bergevin tenders Vanek a contract this Spring. Not after this post season performance.

- Habs defense with what could only be qualified as an indifferent effort tonight.

- Habs with zero sustained pressure in the New York zone this period. Given the situation everyone knew heading into the frame, that's a pretty dismal result.

- Trying to turn up the meter a bit, but it's all too late. Habs headed into New York down two games. The mission is now truly impossible.


- Imperative the Habs stay out of the box. So far, they haven't.

- Vanek with a clear cut breakaway and he ... passes the puck? Clearly Lundqvist has taken a firm seat in the Habs' heads.

- Terrible tripping call on Galchenyuk. Just terrible. Officials making too much of a presence here. And the Rangers capitalize. Sigh.

- Habs hangin in, but the energy isn't there. That third goal was a back breaker. That second goal probably broke a lot of spirit. It's not gonna happen, I'm afraid.

- Still a lot of open ice out there but Habs unable to string together a rush. Last pass is either off the mark or just a hopeless bomb.

- down two goals with 20 minutes left, Habs will need the period of their lives to come back. Offense has gone stone cold, mainly because everyone is looking for the perfect play. Habs should remember how they scored the only goal tonight. Forecheck, and a garbage redeflect. Seems like the entire team forgot.


- So Galchenyuk draws in, disappointingly for Bournival who's one of the Habs' speedier forwards, and has been doing a fine job forechecking and puck retrieval. He matches up well against this Rangers roster. Should have been been Prust or Bourque, really.

- Well, Dustin. Opportunity of a lifetime. You started the season nowhere. You could end it as a legend in the most important hockey centre in the world. 

- Nash barrels into Galchenyuk, who hits Lundqvist. Here we go.

- Habs with a ferocious start. All over the Rangers. 

- Rangers overwhelmed so far. Desharnais line with incredible shift keeping puck in the zone, Patrieotty redeflects it in. 1-0.

- Well that didn't last long. Plekanec weak clearance up the boards, and McDonagh ... ugh. 1-1. Anyway, with the rookie in net, Plecks oughtta know better and do better.

- Normally that's a deflating type goal but to the Habs credit, they've mostly maintained intensity, and have really upped their game at centre ice, which has significantly muted the Rangers' speedy transition. Now headed to the powerplay, it's critical that Montreal build a lead to help give Tokaraski some room to breath and relax.

- Habs seem to be stronger working puck out of their zone. Shorter passes, maybe more north/south focus than east/west stuff?

- And Nash off a soft 3-on-2. Gorges probably could have poked the puck forward at centre ice but instead chose to retreat thereby surrendering the break. A terrible goal to give up in a period you've dominated. Tokarski just not fast enough moving right to left to get his body on the snap shot. Sigh.

- Habs just plain flat had almost all of that period, but end up down on the scoreboard. Disheartening to say the least. This team will really need to dig down deep to find a reserve of motivation and confidence to see their way through to continuing the same play in the 2nd and 3rd. They can still win this. It won't be easy, but it's possible.


This is the end. 

This is the end, my only friends.


- Dustin Tokarski, home also of yours truly, will start in goal tonight. He's the annointed saviour for an entire province and hundreds of thousands of others across Canada. No pressure, kid.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Game One - EC Final: Rangers vs. Habs


- Budaj starts the 3rd, which isn't a surprise. But it's going fuel plenty of panic in Montreal about Price's injury status. No Price, Habs may as well just start thinking about October.

- Four Habs penalty killers all in the same corner, loose puck comes in front and McDonagh blasts it home. Best the Habs forget about the score, and look at the game tape.

- Habs coming completely undone now. Prust with a frustration penalty. Game will be 6-1 very soon.

- There it is. Rangers better be careful running up the score.

- 7-1. What else is there to say? Montreal will have to find their motivation for Game 2 via humiliation.

- Lars mutes the humiliation. Just a little bit.

- So Galchenyuk draws in, who comes out. CW says Bourque, but it could very well be Prust.

- Game two adjustments ought not be overreactive or radical. If Galchenyuk is game able, draw him in for Prust, who had a pretty awful game one. Maybe consider drawing Emelin, who was a disaster, out. I doubt, however, that Therrien would be willing to go that far.

- Must be philosophical about this. Habs were taken to the cleaners by an evenly matched team. So if you're going to lose, might as well do it with style and get it all out. The big question mark is a Price. Is he okay? If so, then the Habs can go to the board and recalibrare and figure this out. If not, the Habs are toast.


- Rangers beating Habs at their own defensive game. Shot blocking anything remotely dangerous.

- Price. Hurt?  Oh god. 

- Little urgency in Habs game right now, finally starting to test Lundqvist.

- Habs really stringing together some impressive shifts strong on the forecheck, now generating high quality scoring chances, but Lundqvist coming up very big. Still, Habs have lots of 2nd period momentum here.

- Now we know what it felt like to be in Tampa Bay and Boston. Rangers brilliant shot blocking and goaltending. Transition ain't bad either. Don't know if there are any answers to this puzzle. Just keep crashing the net and hope for something resembling a rebound.

- In case you blinked, yeah Vanek is playing today. Sort of.

- Bourque gets Habs on the board, going to the net. Rangers protesting Habs had too many men. Still, the momentum factor pays dividends. We've got ourselves a game.

- Physical meter rising here. Lots of hits being dished out. Game taking another tone.

- Man, that's a good looking Rangers PK.

- Emelin's disasterous day continues. Blown coverage on his wing allowing Carter to walk in unmolested. 

- Disaster. Subban with neutral zone turnover, and soft retreat. Zuccarello makes it 4-1. It's a death chamber in the Bell Centre.

- Price doesn't look 100%. Pure speculation but he doesn't look right. Officially worried.

- Habs played an excellent 2nd period - for about 15 minutes. Then they flubbed a powerplay and the Rangers stuffed the game away leveraging their speed and skill. A horrible conclusion to what is now becoming yet another deadful afternoon of hockey in Montreal. 0-5 this season. 0-6 in 20 more minutes.


- Habs going with the same lineup today as Games 6 and 7 against the Bruins.

- Therrien will try to match Subban against Richards line all day long.

- Speedy start both ends, McDonagh and Bourque especially so.  

- With all that speed out there, this series might be not as low scoring as everybody might think.

- St. Louis, with Bournival without his stick, open in front. Markov and Emelin with some soft slot coverage. 1-0. The emotional factor perhaps another dimension in the Rangers' favour. We'll see.

- Yikes. More soft slot coverage, again it's Moore as the setup man, this time it's Zuccarello. Therrien calls for time. Disasterous start for the sluggish and listless Habs.

- Good news, if there's any to be found for the Habs, is the time on the clock. There's a lot left.

- Markov and Emelin having real problems handling the Richards' line speed. Getting caught off the wing way too many times.

- Habs seemingly finding some footing here following the timeout. Shame they'd have to burn it just to gain some focus. How could you not have had any starting game one of a final four series?

- Crazy how much net there is with Lindqvist setting up so deep. The corners are just begging to be shot at.

- Wondering if it was a late Friday night for this lineup. Defense looks drowsy, faceoff percentage (30%) is abysmal. Team looks more zombie-like than inspired. 

- Therrien appears to be shaking up the lines, Bournival hasn't had a shift in some time.

- Bourque gets out of the box. Within 15 seconds gets nailed for another hook. Alex Galchenyuk now thinking about a game 2 start.

- Beaulieu with just 1:32 of time in the first period. Two shifts. That's perplexing given that he wasn't on for either Rangers goal.

- A total mess of a first period. Habs looked slow, unfocused, even disinterested? These are not the Bruins. The Rangers play the Habs style of hockey, which means the Canadians ought know their opponent inside out. Right now the Habs are playing catchup, the Rangers totally setting tone and pace. 


Well, here we are.  The Eastern Conference Final. Gotta say, it feels pretty good to write that.

Funny thing about rising to such rarefied heights. This year it feels different than in 2010. A lot different. Four years ago, the Habs were riding a tide of good fortune, backed by the unforeseen stellar performance of Jaroslav Halak, who led his team to two straight 3-games-to-1 series comebacks - first to the overwhelming favorites, the Washington Capitals (who'd finished first in the Conference), and then to the defending Stanley Cup champions from Pittsburgh.

But that was a crazy spring, the Habs lived each night on a prayer, getting destroyed on puck possession, which in turn led to some crazy final shot totals, often 2-to-1 in favour of the opposition. Still, the Habs managed somehow to find a way to the third round. The puck luck seemed endless.

Of course, everything came crashing back to earth once the Habs took on the Flyers, who easily brushed aside the undermanned Habs in five games. Our dreams were dashed, but the reality was, it was all a mirage.

But that was 2010. The Habs were undermanned. They didn't have four rolling lines. They had, at best, two functioning lines and a collection of make-do forwards who simply couldn't contribute as the playoffs went deeper.

But oh, how things have changed in four years.

This time around, it's different. Way different. The Habs, unlike 2010, are a functional four line team that's been blessed this spring no so much by bounces, but by health. As we type, there is literally no starting player on an injury list. Alex Galchenyuk, who missed the first two rounds with a knee injury, has been cleared for contact. So now the Habs are left with a problem most coaching staffs would kill for halfway through the Stanley Cup playoffs - they have too many players, and not enough slots.

This is not to say the Habs can waltz their way to their first appearance in a Stanley Cup Final in 21 years. Far from it. Their opposition, the New York Rangers, have a few things going their way as well.

First, and perhaps most importantly, the Rangers play a very good possession game, which as we all know (or should know) is a critical post-season component. During the regular season, New York ranked near the top of the League in this area, posting a League 6th best Corsi (53.2%) and Fenwick (53.6%). Both of these numbers have come back a bit in the post-season, but they're still indicative of a team that plays a pretty disciplined system.

So what to look out for? Well, aside from their top two lines which feature Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis, the Rangers have a pretty good bottom six core comprised of strong puck grinders like Mats Zuccarello (who I think could have a big series impact) and Derek Dorsett. It also features two ex-Habs in Benoit Poulliot, who could never find a footing in Montreal, and Dominic Moore, who was regrettably let go by the Habs after their miracle 2010 run (a move that was, in this writer's opinion, the worst decision made during the Pierre Gauthier era). These are all good core players, not elite guys, but battlers.

What the Rangers bring to the table, however, the Habs match. Aside from their two top scoring lines, which showed signs of heating up as the series against the Bruins drew to a close, the Habs have a nice thing going with their third line centred by Lars Eller, and featuring Habs captain Brian Gionta and Rene Bourque. While this line hasn't been producing some of the crazy good scoring results seen during the Tampa series, they were effective against Boston in a forechecking role, which helped stem some of the dangerous Bruins momentum swings.

The real Habs story of these playoffs, perhaps surprisingly so, has been the stellar performance of the Habs 4th line, with Dale Weise and a tandem of others like Travis Moen, Brandon Purst and Daniel Brière playing prominent roles not only driving the Bruins crazy with tenacious speed and checking, but contributing to scoring at the most critical times. I don't think this line has been given nearly enough credit for the Habs post-season success. It stands to reason at anytime, when your fourth line is producing, you're going to be an incredibly hard team to beat. On any night. Against any opposition.

The Habs have so much going their way. Four well balanced, productive and producing lines, (especially that 4th), a defense that's really found their footing since rookie Nathan Beaulieu was brought into the lineup, and of course, elite goaltending by the name of Carey Price. This is a team that as a collective, represents the Canadiens' best hopes for a championship in 21 years.

But first, the Rangers. While the Habs are favorites, and while most of the city of Montreal are banking on a quick an easy series win, I don't think it'll be as straightforward as anticipated. The Rangers bring four lines to the table, they have a solid defensive core, and while I don't think he's quite as good as Price, Henrik Lundqvist is having an excellent 2014 post-season.

That said, matching up one against the other, the Habs are the better team on offense, defense and goaltending. They're also putting up impressive specialty team numbers, currently holding a decisive post-season edge over New York with the powerplay (26.3-10.3%). Shorthanded, the teams are very even (82-80% in favour of the Rangers), but that man advantage differential could play a significant role in closely contested games.

It's really hard to argue with the paper on this. The Habs, who dominated the Rangers during regular season play, have no reason not to win this series in 6 games, and advance to the Championship Final.

Whatever happens, let's remember how rare these great playoff runs are, and borrow a phrase from Mr. Carey Price: Enjoy the moment.


Hey, Friday. Extra happy Friday. Those feet still floating a bit above ground today? Yeah, me too.

We've got the EC Final Preview coming up later today, but in the meantime, some news and notes:

- Alex Galchenyuk has been cleared for contact practice. This means he's just about ready for game action. His status for game one is questionable, but unless something drastic happens during practice time, he'll be game ready for this series. The big question though - who'll have to step aside to make way?

- Habs practice lines this morning. Identical to Games 6/7:

1: Pacioretty/Desharnais/Gallagher
2: Bournival/Plekanec/Vanek
3: Bourque/Eller/Gionta
4: Prust/Brière/Weise

- Milan Lucic. Man, this guy. Got a lifeline chance for some redemtion in an interview with ESPN. So what did Lucic say? "“I can’t take back what I said, so I’m not apologizing for what was said in the handshake."

Have a great summer, Milan.

More in a bit.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Game Seven - EC Semi Finals: Habs vs. Bruins


Montreal 3, Boston 1:


- Habs have been here before. They know what they must do to finish this out. Now, they must execute.

- According to Extra Skater, Habs win expectancy is 71%. Those are good odds, if not totally irrelevant. But still, good.

- Can we have some powerplay production?? Now would be a pretty much a perfect time.

- Passing lanes pretty open for Bruins - getting long range shots away, but those are always dangerous against this bigger Boston team.

- Bruins shortening their bench, and pinching defense agressively. Could tie the game or give Habs lots of odd man breaks.

- Price on Iginla. Was that the save that wins the series?

- Game mired a bit right now, in a slogging battle for the puck. Habs not entirely sitting on this, but are being very, very cautious when they have possession. Too cautions. Not many pucks are being directed towards Rask, which I think is a mistake. There's a bad goal there just begging to be scored.

- Game very slow

- Habs have to forecheck now as if their lives depend on it. Actually, their lives, at least this season, depends on it.

- Boychuck with a massively large interference call on Bournival. Boychuck did it because he knew he was beat. With four and a half minutes left in the third, the Habs with a huge opportunity to strike a dagger into the Bruins' heart. Here we go.

- Briere. Unbelievable. Off Chara. A bad goal. The dagger through the Bruins heart.

- An amazing game by a team that's astounding the hockey world. With the Rangers the next opponent, the Habs are automatically the odds on favorite to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Incredible. Overjoyed.


- Fair to assume that first period didn't go down well with the Bruins. Fair to also say they talked about it in the dressing room. Also fair to assume they'll come out with fury to start the second. Habs must buckle down and prepare for the storm building on the horizon.

- Habs first period Corsi totals, 55%. That's very, very good.

- Wow. Marchand with an incredibly dumb spray on Price, and gets nailed. 

- Habs powerplay still firing blanks, but on the upside, it's not helping the Bruins generate badly needed momentum.

- Now they're getting traction. Here come the Bruins.

- Yeah, Bruins are discovering their game here, getting most of the zone. 

- Gionta, bless him, tries so hard, but brings so little to the goal scoring table. Just doesn't have the finishing polish - more aptly, the shot, to covert his chances.

- Canadiens lost their speed game this period, wondering if they came out just a little too fast to start the game.

- Bruins roll the dice with a tired line off an icing, and don't call for time. Therrien sends out his scoring line, and exhausted Boston line can't clear. Pacioretty finishes. 2-0.

- Really good PK by Habs. Bruins couldn't set up in the Montreal zone. 

- Terrible penalty for Paciorerty to take. Opens the door for a reeling Bruins team that was on the hook.

- Habs PK can't clear, get pinned, Iginla tips the puck past Price. Unstoppable. 2-1.

- Still happy with how the Habs played in that period, powerplay goal aside. Habs are working hard to protect the passing lanes and block shots. Price looks calm and collected. If you were to offer this team a one goal lead in the deciding game against the Boston Bruins, they would have taken it. 20 minutes left. 20 long minutes for a possible berth into the Conference Final.

- Briere. How about that. Off Chara. Wow. 3-1.

- Oy. Markov with an interference. 121 seconds left. Hold on.


- No Seidenberg tonight for the Bruins, not that it's a surprise. But Julien kind of mused about it today, for whatever reason.

- Habs going with same defensive set as Monday night. No surprise there, either.

- Same forward sets in lineup. That means, no Moen tonight. So it's full steam forward, same troops, live or die with what you've got, with what worked.

- Bruins going with the same lineup tonight, including Bartkowski and Miller as the 3rd D pairing. That's a lot of inexperience to depend on, but Julien is sticking with 'em.

- Are we having fun yet? You know, win or lose, these are the games you live your whole life to watch. So enjoy it folks. Enjoy.

- Good, fast start for the Habs, transition has been crisp.

- Wow. Habs dump the punk in, Prust totally beats the slow Bruins D, and Briere with a sweet feed,to Weise. The first goal. An ideal start. Crowd is now quiet - stunned, even.

- Habs are totally outskating the Bruins just about every place on the ice. Don't know what the deal is with Boston, but they look slow, maybe even nervous?

- No goal scored on first powerplay, but Habs were winning just about every puck battle and race. 

- Period so far very similar to game 6, which was played on Habs terms. Bruins have to be worried that the game might be slipping away. We'll see how they rebound. They will rebound. 

- Habs breakouts have been incredible. Boston just plain slow. It's perplexing. I was expecting a whole lot more from them.

- Chara gets nailed for a hold. Not a marginal call. It's indicative of how the Habs are outworking the Bruins.

- Habs powerplay stumbles, but the point stands. If Montreal were told in advance tonight that the best thing going for the Bruins in game 7 was their penalty kill, they'd take that in a heartbeat.

- That period was just about as good as the Habs could hope for. They took the initiative, totally outskated the Bruins, won most of the battles along the boards. And, perhaps most critically, scored the first goal. We all know how important scoring first has been in this series. Habs have set the tone, they must continue to play the same game for the 2nd and 3rd periods - if they do, they will be in an excellent position of winning.


Do exactly what you did Monday night.

Puck drops at 7:10 EST.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Game Six - EC Semi Finals: Bruins vs. Habs


Oh, Andrei. You know we love you to death, but we can't possible condone the stickwork with a clear conscience. We know you're just settling a few scores, but that's the wrong way of doing it. Enter, the GREAT Dale Weise:

See Andrei? That's how you give the Bruins a taste of their own medicine: With sardonic and sarcastic delight.

Montreal 4, Boston 0:


- Don't say we haven't been begging for Murray to be mothballed, but the evidence is kinda really in: Beaulieu's possession tonight, 77%. Murray's this series? 29%.

- Start to this period will be critical - Habs must maintain their composure, and also their forecheck. They played an exceptionally sound game in their zone Game 3, if they can replicate that for 20 more minutes, the Bruins will have an almost unclimbable hill. 

- Here come the Bruins. Price needs that A game more than ever.

- Habs aggressive in the neutral zone, this is what they need to do. Also hustling back hard to break up Bruins rushes.

- Beaulieu with a tremendous shot block, that has him smarting. Possibly saved a goal.

- Doug Hamilton very, very lucky for not getting called for delay after taking out the Boston goal on a Habs 3-on-1 rush. Officials determined to give Boston every possible benefit of the doubt, here. 

- Habs playing an excellent third, the Bruins are basically throwing caution to the wind, desperately trying to generate a goal. It's resulting in many great chances for the Habs off the rush. Habs defense very sound, calm, composed, and effective. 10 long minutes still left, though.  We haven't forgotten Game 2.

- Desharnais may not have scored in a long while, but he makes a remarkable diving play to somehow keep the puck out of the net. That's an incredible athletic play by Desharnais to keep the Bruins off the board.

- Short change really benefiting the Habs this period in protecting their zone.

- As time winds down in the 3rd, Habs have to be extra aware of Bruins taking cheap shots with intent to injure.

- Vanek with the empty netter. Habs will play one more night.

- Now, and this is very important, the Canadiens must avoid all physical contact, all Boston attempts to hit cheap and/or dirty. Tonight's lineup will be Wednesday night's lineup, for all the marbles.

- Here comes the Bruins goon show. Skate away guys, skate away.

- And so we go to Game 7. Habs played an excellent elimination game - did everything right, and were aided by good bounces, both in scoring, and in Boston not scoring, especially earlier in the game. Key moments was the Habs holding steady after getting caught in their zone, with Gorges running a 3 minute shift. The other was a shift by the Briere line with 6 minutes left in the second period, which really stunted the Bruins' momentum, and in retrospect, caused the period to flip completely in the Habs favor, where they were able to extend their scoreboard lead from 1, to 3-0.

I cannot envision Therrrien changing his lineup Wednesday. Tonight, the team clicked. Beaulieu was just fine, thank you very, very much. This is the team that will either live, or die, in 48 hours.

I'll say it now. The winner Wednesday night will play in the Stanley Cup Final. So hold on. It's going to be intense.


- Glorious missed chances off the powerplay. Really should be 2-0. Bounces ominously not going Habs way.

- Bruins powerplay apparently only making a game 5 appearance.

- Subban comes out of the box, and long change catches the Habs badly, the Bruins hemming them in their zone for nearly two straight minutes, with Montreal pinned 3 defenseman. Exhausted, they can't clear. Bruins push hard, but Canadiens somehow manage to win the puck and clear the zone.

- Bruins with a strong 2nd, real bounce-back period. But they're failing to capitalize on great chances, Marchand, Lucic both missing sure-fire scoring chances. Again, we have to wonder if frustration will set in on that Boston bench?

- Habs defense doing long-bomb zone clearances, which is not only a bad sign, but it's essentially automatically surrendering puck possession. This cannot be sustained. The Bruins will keep coming back and pounding the puck deep. Eventually they will score, unless and until the Habs are able to regather their composure, and focus on clearing their zone while maintaining possession.

- Habs 4th line with a solid shift, able to generate a couple of turnovers, able to outpossess the Bruins. This is critical in turning the momentum tide, which is right now, firmly with Boston. Canadiens should be focused on finishing the 2nd period aggressively, the opportunity at hand to generate some separation heading to the final frame.

- And there we have it. Beaulieu with time, a fine long pass that takes a crazy bounce, Pacioretty outskates Rask to the puck, and finally, finally scores. This is huge. Mega huge. 2-0.

- And Vanek makes it 3-0 on the powerplay. Bounces again going the Habs way. But really, he and Desharnais and Pacioretty have finally delivered on the promise. And the Habs are now in great shape forcing this to a game 7.

- That shift by the Habs 4th line with 6 minutes left was a real game changer. Depending on how this game pans out, and possibly Wednesday night, it could be a series changer. We'll see.


- Welp, I must admit I had a bad feeling heading into Saturday night, much much better feeling heading into tonight. But that's just my gut feeling at this point.

- Therrien not holding back, putting in Briere, pulling out Moen. He's looking to outscore, outspeed the Bruins tonight. The physical stuff is shelved. There's nothing more to be gained from "outhitting" this Bruins opponent.

- Gio better shake her hand.

- Prust gets the honor. Here's hoping he gets a better result tonight.

- Firsr huge break of the night. Miller with terrible misplay behind his net. Eller capitalizes. Can the Habs keep building on this bounce?

- Tremendous start for Montreal . Forecheck very resembling of game 3. Bruins basically in retreat trying to weather the storm.

- Desharnais line comes within a hair of making it 2-0. Lots of fire in their belly so far. Best looking they've appeared this series.

- Habs winning most of the puck battles firing shots on Rask at every angle. No way they can sustain this pace over 60 minutes, though.

- Julien in a tough spot. Therrien matching Desharnais line against Bartkowski and Miller, wit the last change. Bruins may be forced to over play their top 4.

- unbelievable PK for the Habs, highlighted by an astonishing shift by Emelin. Boston in total disarray. Probably the best kill of the season. Right there.

- Game settling a bit, but it's still one of the best periods this team has played all year.

- Siren goes to end the period, Bruins attempt to sucker the Habs behind their net, but Hamilton is the only one penalized with a vicious cross on Plekanec. Habs will have man advantage to start the 2nd. 

- Habs looked good. Great even. Early period checking was near perfection, and surprisingly physical. Boston, even knowing their opponents were going to come out hard, looked a little shellshocked the first 10 minutes. Game settled down somewhat, officials let a lot of nasty stickwork go, most of it committed by Boston. The only area that looked weak for the Habs was puck control in their own zone - too many clunky and unforced turnovers, a couple of which generated some pretty high percentage scoring chances on Price. Still, there's no way the Habs can't be happy with the result. The only big question is, can they maintain this vigor and pace all the way to the finish line? If they somehow can, they'll be in great shape to force a game 7. Huge if, though.


Need motivation? Well, you can start with this:

Need more? About about this:

Or if that still isn't enough, maybe a bit of this:

Ladies and gents, the Boston Bruins, in all of their bush-league, arrogant glory. 

It's all pretty simple at this point for hockey fans in Montreal. Lose, or go home. The Canadiens face elimination for the first time this season, as they take on the Bruins at the Bell Centre.

Right now, a betting man wouldn't dare touch the Habs. After Thursday's devastating 1-0 OT loss, and Saturday's listless 4-2 defeat, the Bruins look to be unstoppable.

But ... there remains hope. Not much. But some.

The crux of the Habs hopes focuses on a couple of late Game 5 incidents, both very similar in nature. First, Milan Lucic, with his team holding a comfortable lead (apparently) started taunting P.K. Subban with a series of arm flexes. With 4 minutes left in the game, Shawn Thornton, who earlier in the series attempted to fake injury after hitting his knee against a dodging Subban, sprayed the Canadiens defenseman with water to his face as he was skating by the Boston bench during play. The spray cost Thornton a $2,800 fine, a mere pittance for an NHL regular.

While the League seems unwilling to take meaningful action against such classless behavior, those two acts were noted, and have been talked about by Habs players and coaches alike since Sunday morning. They were acts brazen with arrogance, committed by a team that believes that it's above the law of the League. To a great extent, that's true. The National Hockey League continues to look the other way, even though Boston consistantly acts very, very badly on the ice and their bench.

So there's a score to be settled. The question is, does this Habs team have the gumption to put Boston back in a humbler place?

While no official lineup changes have been announced, there's been lots of speculation today that the Habs will start the young Nathan Beaulieu, in place of the screamingly incompetent Doug Murray. It would be a bold move, especially considering that it would be Beaulieu's very first post-season game of his life, and against the Habs' fiercest rival in a do-or-die contest. This isn't tossing Beaulieu into the deep end. It's tossing him into the Mariana Trench.

Still, the logistics do make sense. Paired next to Mike Weaver, who's had an excellent series as a shot blocker and defensive defenseman, Beaulieu's specialty leans towards possession and transition. Weaver can do his job stopping pucks, Beaulieu can do his moving them.

Ultimately, we won't know for great certainty if Beaulieu will start until warmups.

Otherwise, the ongoing story continues to be the lack of production by the players who everyone assumed would produce. Once again, all eyes will be on Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek, the former who has but just one goal in 9 playoff games, the later who's posting the worst possession numbers among all - that's right - all Habs players, except for Doug Murray.

Other players to watch out for include Thomas Plekanec, who had a string of disastrous shifts Saturday night that contributed directly to the Habs loss. Meanwhile, fans are growing increasingly impatient again with the performances delivered by Rene Bourque, who just two weeks ago was playing like a Conn Smythe candidate, but against the season, has looked like the usual, listless, unproductive, regular season self.

This 6th game of the series won't be easy.  Carey Price will have to play extraordinary well, even by his standards. There is much more pressure on the Habs tonight, especially against a Bruins team that seems to be strutting with great confidence.

But there's a fine line between confidence and arrogance. With the Bruins, it's especially thin. This is a team that tends to fray very quickly when things don't go their way.

Tonight, the ghosts must make their presence felt. The Habs need the benefit of some luck if they have any hopes of playing Wednesday, one final time, against the despised Bruins.

Puck drops at 7:40 EST. For perhaps the last time until October.

4:45 P.M. EST UPDATE: Beaulieu is IN tonight, according to TVA.