Thursday, 1 May 2014

'14 Playoffs Round 2, Game 1: Canadiens 4, Bruins 3 (2OT)

At the beginning of Rocky II, we see Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa in the hospital after the terrible beating they gave each other during their title fight.  Apollo, especially, is sullen and pensive, and even though he's won the bout and preserved his title.  He's despondent that he gave the challenger everything he had, and couldn't knock him out.

The comparison to tonight's game isn't perfect, since in tonight's game the challenger, ably played by your plucky Canadiens, actually pulled off an upset 4-3 double overtime win, but you have to wonder if the Bruins will become somber and fatalist like Apollo.  They gave the Canadiens all they had, had them on the ropes, softened them up by hitting the body, missed on a lot of what could have been knockout blows, and couldn't put them away.

The Canadiens' rope-a-dope was not just a sound strategy late in the game, you got a sense that was the only stance they could adopt, to weather the storm.  While they were able to break out of their zone with ease earlier in the game, as the game progressed they were increasingly bottled up and flailing while shots whizzed by their net.

We can say the Bruins were unlucky to not win the game, with lots of open nets missed, and pucks that skittered through the crease and other heart-stopping moments, but that would be short-changing Carey Price.  He stopped 48 of 51 shots, a number of them of the highlight variety.  Some detractors would accuse him in the past of 'not stealing games', but this year, and specifically tonight, he put that criticism to rest.

P.K. Subban played an impact role, playing tough, playing lots, and being productive, scoring twice, including the OT game-winner.  Importantly, he kept his cool when confronted by Bruins taking runs at him, and generally all through the game.

The only fly in the ointment is his habit of delivering bodychecks, or attempting to deal them out, by skating backwards, rear-end first.  Tonight, he tried three time to connect, and wasn't successful.  What's worse, he put himself out of position by doing so, twice glaringly so.  I don't know if he can be coached to hit otherwise, if it's something he can do, or can learn this late in his career, or if it's something like baseball players who don't learn to slide feet-first, and can't do it, no matter how much they want to, they end up going head first.  I'd really like for P.K. to plant his shoulder in opponents' chests, and knock the wind out of them, like Mark Hunter or Gilbert Delorme used to do.  And that kid Gainey, he could hit pretty good.  Maybe show P.K. some videos of that guy.

Lars Eller and René Bourque continued to atone for their regular season.  René potted another goal, ho hum.  Lars won some big faceoffs, was fast and physical out there.  At times, their line seemed to be the only one that could push back against the Bruins.

Conversely, the #1 line of Pacioretty-Desharnais-Vanek was pitiful, and was dismantled early in the first period, Coach Michel Therrien swapping in Dale Weise for Thomas Vanek.  Most analysts on RDS were stumped by this decision, or at least its haste, but Mr. Vanek did struggle, at times being downright invisible.  As stated before, much is expected of these guys, and tonight they fell far short of expectations.

Francis Bouillon scored a big goal during a scramble in the Bruins zone, when they skittered around their net like termites around a busted colony, due to the work of aardvarks Lars, René and Brian Gionta.  The captain got control of the puck behind the net, spotted Frankie sneaking in from the blue line and fed him the puck, which he fired in the net from the slot.  I formulated the thought that Douglas Murray or Jarred Tinordi would have been hard-pressed to make that play, or to skate the puck out of the zone like he did on a few occasions, beating a forechecking Bruin with his quickness.  Michel Therrien has some decisions to make regarding his roster, whether to inject more toughness or more speed, but it will be difficult to take Francis out after tonight's performance.

I couldn't help but notice Brad Marchand crosscheck P.K. Subban in the face during the game, and also slash and crosscheck David Desharnais after a whistle, under the nose of the referees.  They'll be under pressure to limit penalties as the series advances, since some will lament the fact that the game-winner was a powerplay tally, so I'll be cringing to see how far that Bruins' designated rat will be allowed to take it.  So it begins.

So an encouraging start for the Canadiens, in that they won a game they probably shouldn't have.  They've nullified the Bruins' home-ice advantage with this steal.  It will remain to be seen how both teams react to this result.  The Bruins especially can go either way, crushed under their inferiority complex versus the Habs, worried about ghosts, with a flaky goalie who seems to come up short against their hated rivals.  Or, they can tell themselves that all they need to do is play the same way Saturday, and the bounces will come, the pucks will go in, and Carey Price will buckle.  It's gotta happen, right?

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