Sunday, 20 April 2014

'14 Playoffs Game 3: Canadiens 3, Lightning 2

I don't want to characterize the Canadiens 3-2 win in Game 3 of the series as lucky, but let's allow that it's inconclusive, gracieuseté of Tampa goalie Anders Lindback.  The Canadiens played well, but benefited from an early goal by René Bourque on which the Lightning goalie was not sharp.

From there, the Canadiens essentially battled the Lightning to a draw, scoring two more goals to match Tampa's two, and being favoured by referee decisions that in the past have tended to go against our boys.  Especially when playing against the Bruins or the Leafs, or when Chris Lee or Tim Peel are in the building.  In such a tight game, lucky bounces could go either way, a few posts were struck by either side.

It remains for Tampa coach Jon Cooper to bemoan the refereeing without falling afoul of NHL discipline.  Because in the NHL, you can pitchfork someone in the nuts, with malice and forethought, and do so repeatedly, with little consequence, but beware calling into question the rulemaking or refereeing.  That the league doesn't take kindly to.

René Bourque was bitten by a Bizarro-world tsetse fly which gave him anti-sleeping sickness, or something like that.  He's energized, playing with a purpose, using his size and speed.  He acts like he wants the puck and knows where he's going with it, whereas for much of the season he hesitated and fumbled.  Gaston Therrien wondered on l'Antichambre whether General Manager Marc Bergevin had made up his mind to unload him during the off-season but might now be reconsidering.  It's only three games, but they offer a glimpse of what René can be, of what has always been envisioned in his case.

Apparently Marc Bergevin told him around the trade deadline that he wasn't going to trade him because he didn't want him to land somewhere else and immediately pot twenty goals.  But even if he wasn't so productive right now, I kind of think that Marc Bergevin's hands are tied, seeing as René's trade value was so low, it didn't make sense to just dump him for no return, unless there were character issues, which has never been a problem for the big winger.  By all accounts he's not a problem with the coaches or his teammates, he's well-liked.

So as an alternative, it's not unlikely that the Canadiens might have held on to René as a virtual penny stock, a longshot who could pay off huge.  A $3.3M cap hit is not inconsiderable, and Marc Bergevin has proven to be decisive, in dealing with Scott Gomez, Tomas Kaberle and Erik Cole, for example, but he might have wanted/been forced to stand pat in this case, and hope it turns out.  We can hope that René has turned a corner, his confidence has returned, any lingering effects from his concussion last season have dissipated, and he's able to produce in a manner commensurate with his skill and potential for the remainder of his contract.

His linemate, centre Lars Eller, may be feeding off René's surge, he also seems more focused, driven, taking a couple of good shots with the puck today, and we didn't see any of his puckhandling exhibitions that take the puck away from the slot to the periphery.  Together with Brian Gionta, they're forming a reliable, effective second/third line that Michel Therrien can ice in most situations.

It's amazing how much two players rounding into form can change a lineup.  We worried about secondary scoring at the onset of the playoffs, and looked at the lineup and wondered who was going to contribute beyond the Desharnais trio.  Having René Bourque and Lars Eller rolling, suddenly, is having the effect of adding two more effective forwards at the trade deadline.

P.K. played a solid game, and was rewarded with lots of ice along with his partner Josh Gorges.  He kept things simple, played hard, and turned it on at an opportune moment, when he stickhandled around the Lightning zone when playing 4-on-4, confusing their defensive coverage and setting up Brendan Gallagher's goal.  Creating a goal out of thin air, to give his team the lead, this is the P.K. Subban who is invaluable to our organization.  P.K. picked up two assists, and the second star of the night for his troubles.

So it's Jon Cooper's job now to try to turn the tide, to jumpstart his team to eke out at least one win, and to do so another way than the clumsy, snide remark from earlier in the day when he alluded to the Canadiens' history recently when jumping out to a 2-0 series lead.  The thing is, he didn't have the courage to let fly, he kind of mumbled and butchered the statement, and his sly kid look didn't wear well.  And it blew up in his face anyway.  He looked petulant and at a loss for word during his post-game presser.

The Canadiens are sitting pretty, clearly bound for the second round, but I worry.  As much as we repeat to each other that playoff hockey is a different beast, that the refs will let things slide, it's been taken to a shocking extent so far.

The Milan Lucic pitchfork to the groin.  Everything that Duncan Keith has been lowlighted doing with his stick against the Blues, especially with the mindless goonery he's demonstrated in the past, notably against the Sedin brothers as a backdrop.  Brent Seabrook's charge against David Backes, which is noteworthy only because the Blues' captain was knocked out, not because it was particularly egregious, given the tolerance shown repeatedly by refs in similar instances of players 'finishing their checks'.  Everything that's been happening between the Sharks and the Kings, which is more of a war of attrition than a hockey series.  Brandon Dubinsky's calculated, blatant muggings of Sidney Crosby, under the indulgent nose of the referees.

And talking heads wring their hands and speak about this as if it's an intractable, pervasive problem, something that's bigger than we are, that has so many causes and so few easy solutions that we feel powerless.  Which it isn't.  All that has to happen is for the league to realize that Sidney Crosby is a treasure who must be allowed to thrive, as opposed to torn down.  All that has to happen is for the refs to call the penalties as they happen.  You see a slash, call it.  You see a double-check, don't fret about the repercussions of a penalty during the playoffs, call the penalty.  Duncan Keith threatening Vladimir Tarasenko with his stick before a faceoff?  Misconduct his ass off the ice.

Milan Lucic not getting suspended because no one from the Department of Player Safety thought to call him after his braindead spear of Alexei Emelin a couple weeks back, which make him, technically, a first-time offender?  Gimme a frigging break.  Use your power to discipline players, point out the fact that it's not a 'hockey play' perpetrated in the heat of battle, as the hit on David Backes' was, but rather a deliberate attempt to hurt or injure.  It's an attack on the fabric of the game itself, as intolerable as Sean Avery's antics against Martin Brodeur a few years back.

Show some decisiveness.  Protect your game.  Convince fearful mothers that their precious little boys and girls will be safe taking up the sport of hockey.  The goonery will rapidly be stamped out.

Earlier in the day, I tuned in to the Bruins-Red Wings game, hoping for good news, but found that the bad guys were already leading 2-0.  As I vacillated between watching this game or enjoying the sunshine outdoors, a play developed in which Pavel Datsyuk raced to the Boston net, checked closely by Designated Rat Brad Marchand.  They jostled as they came to a stop, wrestling with their sticks, and Mr. Datsyuk got the better of his adversary, dumping him to the ground.  The ref blew his whistle, the play over.  Brad Marchand got up, skated to Pavel Datsyuk, and, as the ref watched them, and only them from two metres away, crosschecked Mr. Datsyuk a few times, violently.  And the referee kept watching.  He didn't see an infraction in this.  A scrum ensued, lots of milling around, and the ref continued watching.

No penalty was called by the apparently myopic ref.  Either that or he's getting a  swimming pool put in this summer at his house by noted contractor and philanthropist Jeremy Jacobs.

I turned off the TV and went outside.

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