Wednesday, 16 April 2014

'14 Playoffs Game 1: Canadiens 5, Lightning 4 (OT)

My PVR played a nasty trick on me.  I had set it up to record every program on RDS from "Hockey 360" until 0200 hr PDT, which I thought would be sufficient for any overtime, including a Capitals vs. Islanders-style marathon.  Somehow though, I got robbed of the entire overtime period, jumping straight from the end of the third period, to the next program when Jacques Demers and the rest of the crew on l'Antichambre were gladhanding and backslapping.  Odd, since I was expecting them to comment in between periods before resumption of play in overtime, but they were definitely in a celebratory mood.  I really thought there was no reason to celebrate at the end of the third.

So that blows, I didn't get to see the Canadiens win it 5-4 in OT.  I've seen the Dale Weise goal, but I'll definitely watch the end of the game on "Canadiens Express".  And I'll manually program my PVR the rest of these playoffs to prevent this from re-occurring.

What's even more odd, and blows much more, is how many Canadiens fans felt their lineup was inferior to the Lightning's prior to puck drop, and were somberly predicting doom for les Glorieux.  Which I absolutely don't get.  I think the Lightning are, like the Canadiens, a good but not flawless team, with strengths and weaknesses.  Further, I feel we match up quite well with them.  With rampaging rhino Ryan Malone on the sidelines for disciplinary issues, there's no monster player who'll bulldoze a swath through our lineup, we're facing a fast, skilled team that will try to skate with us, which we can handle.

One post on social media which made me gasp described the Tampa Bay defence corps as "pretty awesome" and containing "no weak links".  Now I have to differ on this, any team which puts out failed-Leaf Mike Kostka as their #6 defenceman ipso facto relinquishes any claim to awesomeness in any form.  Your weakest link is wearing #21, plainly, for everyone to see.  The brittle Sami Salo is 39 years old.  Radko Gudas is statuesque, but in his case it's not a flattering term.

RDS had a lowlight segment of Tampa Bay d-men gaffes, and it wasn't pretty.  Matt Carle getting down to block a shot and letting Lars Eller skate around him for a score.  Radko Gudas stumbling and, uh, letting Tomas Plekanec skate around him for a score.  Flubbed passes, for glaring giveaways.  Then the Dale Weise goal with both d-men wrestling behind the net with titanic Daniel Brière.  That's a lot of lowlights for one game.

I'm not saying that our defence is leaps and bounds better, we have our own issues, but there's no way that we should have d-corps envy when it comes to the Lightning.  Save that for when we're up against the Blackhawks in the finals and look upon their first pairing of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, as big of a preck as the latter is.

No envy then, especially if P.K. can find his form.  He looked scattered again tonight.  Ineffective offensively, spraying passes, not reliably gaining the offensive zone on the powerplay, he was also out of sorts on defence.  He tried a few times in the second to deliver his 'bee sting' hip check, but mostly missed his man and had to scramble back.  At one point an opponent tried to retaliate with a hip check of his own, P.K. took offence and delivered a weak one-handed slash, and then faked an injury for a few seconds to try to draw an offsetting penalty.

I'll say it again.  I want P.K. to play tough, to play hard, but to stop with the cheap slashes and spears and slewfoots, to stop gaping at the refs, arms in the air, shrugging, while play continues around him.  I want him to stop the diving and the maudlin act for the refs.  I want him to be tough, to fight through checks and slashes and play with a purpose, not distracted by what the refs may decide.  Keep playing hard until the whistle blows, you'll get more calls that way.  I want him to stop trying to instigate, he's too good a player, too smart, too valuable, too likable to take the Brad Marchand path.  Play tough, play hard, and if you cause a fight, decline it, or finish it yourself, don't wait for Hal Gill, Josh Gorges, Brandon Prust, George Parros or Francis Bouillon to come in and save your bacon.

But this is a side rant, meant to clear the air, P.K. didn't win the game for us, but he certainly didn't nearly lose it for us.  There's plenty of blame to go around.  Mike Weaver for pinching, holding the blue line, when his team was up one goal, drew a lot of negative attention.  If we were trying to tie up the game late in the third, the risk would have been justified, but as it was, he sprang the Lightning for a two-on-one that Steven Stamkos cashed in for his second goal of the game.  Andrei Markov didn't cover himself in glory on that one either, his slide was mistimed and ineffective.  And I hate that play anyway.  He focused on the puck carrier instead of blocking the pass and letting Carey worry about the shooter.

Carey had an awful game in terms of his results going into overtime, stopping 12 of 16 shots.  Pierre Houde during the game idly wondered whether Carey was suffering from the lack of work, whether more shots might have been better for him, and it's hard to argue against that hypothesis.  The Antichambre crew assure me that he made up for this with his play in overtime, keeping the boys in the game until Dale Weise ended it.

One other goat who jumped out at me, and everybody else on RDS, was Brandon Prust on the third goal against, when he had the puck on his stick in the defensive zone, with a slim one-goal lead.  This is the kind of situation of which coaches will plead requires a 'strong play', meaning banging it off the boards, clearing the zone, not messing around.  But Brandon tried to finesse the puck, to stickhandle his way out of danger, and he coughed it up and it ended in his net.

He was properly contrite, immediately, and we'll have to give him a pardon on this, seeing as it's his first game back in a month, but I'd like to caution Brandon that when he plays on a line other than the fourth, he gets too fancy.  He seems to think that he needs to match pretty plays with his linemates, whereas all he needs to do is skate hard, gain possession of the puck, and the opposition zone, bang and crash, be physical and a handful in front of the net.  Let your linemates do the embroidery Brandon, you just be yourself, do your job, move the furniture around, that's all that's required of you, and you'll do fine just doing that.

It's worthwhile to go over the contributions of our fourth line, and the greater depth of the Canadiens at forward.  From the lowpoint of two seasons ago when we had the likes of Aaron Palushaj, Mathieu Darche, Yannick Weber, and Mike Blunden among others filling in on the fourth line, and bleeding up into the third, we now have a comparative embarrassment of riches.  Making lemonade, Michel Therrien played Daniel Brière at centre on the fourth line, between two fast young wingers Dale Weise and Michaël Bournival, who have the ability to cause havoc in the offensive zone.  Against a tougher, more physical team, Ryan White might make more sense on the fourth line, but this combo was the right choice to counter Tampa's speed.  They spent a large part of their shifts in the offensive zone, sending pucks skittering across their crease, and had them on their heels for a large portion of the evening.

With Travis Moen coming back from injury soon, Michel Therrien will have lots of options to mix and match youth or experience, speed and offence or defensive reliability, scoring or grit, when he makes up his lines.

So we've wrested home-ice advantage from the Lightning, even if it wasn't pretty or decisive.  "They found a way to win", on a night when Carey was off and every mistake ended up in his net.  Let's hope for a better result from him on Friday, so we can go home up 2-0 in the series, and step on their neck on Sunday.

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