Saturday, 3 May 2014

'14 Playoffs Round 2, Game 2: Canadiens 3, Bruins 5

Ugh.  I want to barf.  This game was about as appealing as the tattooed young lady seated behind the Canadiens bench, who got a lot of screen time as the camera trained on Coach Michel Therrien.  It seemed like the Canadiens were going to withstand another Bruin onslaught, taking a 3-1 lead deep in the third, but they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, succumbing 5-3.

We can't blame Carey Price for the 'collapse' in the third, since there wouldn't have been a lead to protect without his excellent, sometimes miraculous work earlier on.  He was good, he was lucky, for two and a half periods he played like he did in Game 1.  Then he cracked, almost as if the dam couldn't bear the pressure any more.  I'm sure he's going to kick himself over the Patrice Bergeron goal, which hit him in the leg pad but bounced up and trickled in over his shoulder, but overall, he did his job.  Forget about the final result, and get ready for Tuesday Carey.

I don't know what to say about Thomas Vanek.  He may have played the worst two-goal game I can remember for a Canadiens, we're talking Michael Ryder or Alex Kovalev territory.  In a game where the bigger Bruins are running at the Canadiens and taking shots at Brian Gionta and Brendan Gallagher, he should have asserted himself.  Not that I expect him to charge Zdeno Chara, but he needs to be hungrier, more intense, he has to show that he wants the puck, and wants to score.  It's a question of degrees.  I know his game consists of cruising around finding open space, but he needs to find an extra gear now, try to chip in, to contribute in other ways, while he kills time between goals.

Max was not much better.  David Desharnais will always attract attention, being the line's puck carrier, but he shouldn't be the only one noticeable, and by such a wide margin.  He's the smallest guy on the team, yet there he is in the corners fighting for the puck against Crosscheck Anderson and Elbows McManslaughter.  I hope that Max and Thomas have a long chat with each other, or with their own conscience.   You can have an off-game, but not in the playoffs.  And you can't have two putrid games such as they've just had, we've discussed how these guys have to produce like a #1 line, no excuses.  And this has to be the most tepid 2-goal game for this line ever.

P.K. on the other hand, clearly has taken the next step. and easily found this extra gear.  He's focused, disciplined, productive, the player we think we have but who faded away this season at times.  Today he shrugged off the attentions of the Bruins to play heavy minutes, set up both Thomas Vanek goals with shots from the point, and only went into his whirling dervish mode a couple of times.  And these were appropriate times, when his skating exhibitions can-openered the Bruins defence, as they scrambled to contain him and maintain coverage.

Brandon Prust's stick early on was where pucks went to die.  Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher would try to chip the puck to him for give-and-go's, but he'd flub a pass or give the puck away.  He seemed more assured, more comfortable when Michel Therrien put him on the fourth line and bumped up Michaël Bournival to play on Tomas' left wing.  Once on the fourth line, we saw Brandon taking the puck, putting it deep in the Bruins zone, and forechecking effectively, always a menace to finish his checks.

Mike Weaver was at his best, in a scratching, clawing game.  I'm not sure he can be this good in a skating, wide-open game, but here he's in his element. He might have spent more time on his pants blocking plays than on his skates.  The goal he scored in the second is almost incidental compared to the central, titanic work he did blocking shots, cutting off passes, interdicting lanes.  Without his efforts there wouldn't have been a lead to cough up.

Losing the game hurts for more reasons than just letting the Bruins back in the series.  Tuukka Rask was wobbling, teetering, he never seemed comfortable or confident tonight.  Now he can look back on his effort as 'finding a way to win', or battling through adversity, whereas if he'd lost again he might have been damaged psychologically, wondering if he was about to get pulled.  We'll see on Tuesday if he settles down and pucks don't rebound off his pads directly into the slot anymore.

While the referees called a tighter game than expected, we can see where the trend is headed.  Brad Marchand started the game off, on the initial faceoff, by slashing at Brendan Gallagher, with both refs watching, and no penalty called.  Kevan Miller had his crosscheck-flex stick out, and he wasn't even playing defence, such as that is, he would just indiscriminately lay the lumber on any bleu-blanc-rouge jerseys in the area.

And whatever respect I had left for Jarome Iginla is rapidly waning.  Having ditched the Flames for a frontrunning stint with the Penguins, he switches horses this season and tries to tag along with the Bruins for a cheapie, Ray Bourque-style coat-tailed Stanley Cup.  And he adopts their ethos, facewashing players from behind, and taking on Brendan Gallagher in a confrontation.  Nice work Jarome, you're well and truly a Bruin now.  You might as well be an attorney on retainer with R.J. Reynolds, or be the personal physician to Idi Amin Dada.

So the Bruins have won the physical battles, they're managing to get their thumps in despite an attempt by the refs to keep play within the bounds of the Geneva Convention.  And it's having an effect, as Mario Tremblay noted with mild disgust between periods, there are quite a few Canadiens playing "du bout de la palette", meaning with the very end of their stick blade.  Marc Denis also stated that the Canadiens have to accept contact to make a play, not avoid contact and turn over the puck.  As he said, it doesn't mean you try to match the Bruins on the physical aspect, but you can't shirk your responsibility to protect the puck.

It now remains to see what adjustments Michel Therrien can make.  Travis Moen and Ryan White in, Daniel Brière and Michaël Bournival out?  Inject size and toughness at the expense of team speed?  Rob Peter to pay Paul?  Rest Brandon Prust some more?

So a bitter start to the day, and more than 72 hours to stew over a fishtail ending to a game that Carey just about stole again.  I don't know how we'll manage it.

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