Wednesday, 7 May 2014

'14 Playoffs Round 2, Game 3: Canadiens 4, Bruins 2

I imagine Jeremy Jacobs in the owner's box, planning the Bruins' strategy for Game 4.

Because, what do you know, when the Bruins stick to hockey rather than sacrileges onto the human dignity, we can handle them.  Jarome Iginla is still slow, their rookie defencemen can be pressured, Zdeno Chara is not all that useful when he's not crosschecking in the corners with impunity.  The Bruins made it close at the end, but the Canadiens controlled this game and won it handily, adding an empty-netter for a final score of 4-2.

Midas Therrien channeled his former self, deciding that "on n'a pas l'temps d'niaiser" (meaning, "we don't have time to mess around"), as he'd famously said before Game 2 of the shortened season last year, as an explanation for scratching Lars Eller after what he felt was a listless outing in the very first game.

In this case, he felt he'd seen enough of the #1 line's ineffectiveness during the playoffs, and sat down with them this morning and announced that he was making a change in the lines, reuniting Brendan Gallagher with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty, and giving Thomas Vanek another shot at playing with Tomas Plekanec.  He explained to the press corps after the game that he also wanted to give his lines a spark, having a player who can bring "energy" to each line.

And again, what the Coach touched turned to gold.  The David Desharnais line didn't contribute, but they didn't seem lethargic.  Max used his speed to constantly threaten the Bruins, their defencemen were scrambling to contain him all game.  Meanwhile, Thomas Vanek made a beautiful pass to set up the Canadiens' first goal midway through the first, and for the rest of the game constantly attacked the Bruins zone, taking shots and making passes.  This was a big improvement over the first two games, in which he was invisible for vast stretches.

The tinkering didn't end there.  Michel Therrien scratched an ineffective, probably ailing Brandon Prust, and returned Travis Moen to the lineup.  Travis was steady-eddie, although he was lowlighted on Gaston Therrien's post-game analysis on RDS for blowing a defensive backchecking assignment that almost led to a Bruins goal.  He more than made up for it in my mind with a thunderous bodycheck of Jarome Iginla at the end of the game.

The final adjustment was sitting out Francis Bouillon and plugging in designated mastodon Douglas Murray.  The coach explained that the decision was not due to dissatisfaction with Cube's play, but rather just an opportunity to add toughness and size to the lineup.  Having the last change probably made the head coach more comfortable with that move, giving him control of when and against who he'd be on the ice against.

Douglas played well, using his size to throw a few hits.  He was very effective in the offensive zone when he'd move up from the blue line to counter a Bruins winger and prevent zone clears.  The thought occurred to me that if it's a choice of supporting the attack or chugging back to defend, Douglas will probably be more at ease with the former, and one of the forwards can probably do just as well as he'd do if he was beaten on his gamble.

Another way I noticed the team tailoring their play to when Douglas was on the ice was Carey Price, freezing every puck that came his way, to reset, as opposed to when Andrei or Josh or P.K. is around, and he feels comfortable sending the puck their way to launch the counter-attack.  Douglas is willing but sometimes unable to clear the zone with ease, so it makes sense for Carey to play it safe when he's around.  In return, he can feel secure that he won't get scrummed when the big Swede is around.

Dale Weise is unrecognizable when compared to his stint as a Canuck.  With his former team, Dale would often show stone hands, creating opportunities with his size and speed on the forecheck, but failing to cash them in routinely, he'd make you wince, agonize about what could be if he was just a touch more lucky.  Well he's already scored an overtime winner against Tampa, and tonight he used his skating to get clear on a breakaway, thanks to a nifty pass from Daniel Brière, and scored a big goal on Tuukka Rask.  He added an assist for good measure.

P.K. showed some confidence verging on hubris when he declared to RDS' Chantal Machabée in a brief board-side interview in the pre-game warmup that he "was only getting started", when she asked him about his strong play so far in the series.  It's not arrogance if you can back it up though, and he did, picking up another two points and catching Brent Seabrook for the scoring lead for defencemen in the playoffs.

P.K.'s goal was a thing of beauty, started by the penalty kill duo of Dale Weise and Lars Eller.  As Lars skated the puck into the neutral zone, he noticed P.K. about to jump on the ice from the penalty box.  Lars kept to the opposite side of the ice, showing the Bruins the puck, hypnotizing them with it, before hitting a wide-open P.K. with a beautiful pass that hit him in stride.  P.K. then showed off his confidence, attacking Tuukka Rask with a couple of fakes and dekes that undressed him, and having a gaping net to deposit the puck in as a result.

Mr. Rask is not playing badly, per se, his performance isn't lindbackian, but he doesn't seem settled, confident.  He's not getting blown out, but he's not making the big save that his team would need.  The Antichambre boys think he looks nervous, whereas Carey exudes calm, and that both teams are picking up on that.

The Canadiens played with fire a little bit, despite being exhorted by the coaches to 'keep pushing', to not let off the gas pedal late in the third.  The Bruins narrowed the deficit to one goal on a Jarome Iginla deflection of a shot from the point, with an extra attacker on the ice and their net empty.

The thing is, that sequence started in the Bruins zone, when the Canadiens forwards were buzzing around the net.  Unfortunately, eventually the puck slid lazily towards the blue line, and I couldn't see a Canadiens defenceman there to blast it at the net, but I kept waiting for one to appear in the frame.  Maybe they've just changed I thought.  And another couple of seconds went by, with no blueliners coming in, the Bruins corralled the puck and took it into the Canadiens' end and eventually scored.  I guess the boys had already dropped back into the neutral zone, to defend, but all it meant was an easy defensive zone clear by the Bruins, and a waltz into our zone.

So it's a hard lesson to learn, that the Bruins are poor in their own zone, when they're on their heels they scramble and their coverage breaks down, but when they get into our end, and they're desperate for a goal, they're big and tough and dangerous, especially in the third period as we've already seen.  So let's not play rope-a-dope with them, let's not try to collapse around our goal like Custer at the Little Big Horn, let's keep the puck in theirs and seeing just how rattled Mr. Rask can get.

In my natural pessimism, I predicted a Bruins series win, aided by the myopic refereeing and the SmashUp Derby hockey that is preferred by the league in the playoffs.  I said that if the Canadiens played well, they might push it to six games.

Well, the Canadiens did play well tonight, the Bruins didn't seriously try to disembowel or decapitate anyone, and now the best result Boston can hope for is a series win in 6 games.  I'll enjoy it for now, but my natural pessimism will start to gnaw at me soon, making me fear what abysmal level the Bruins will stoop to in Game 4.

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