Monday, 12 May 2014

'14 Playoffs Round 2, Game 6: Canadiens 4, Bruins 0

Again, waddya know, a hockey game broke out at the New Forum, largely devoid of Bruin idiocy, save for maybe a knee-on-knee from Zdeno Chara, and a paroxysm at the end from, sigh, again the Bruin captain and his horde of usual suspects.  Aside from that, the game was a fast-skating, hard-hitting affair, with the Canadiens not shrinking from contact as opposed to last Saturday in Boston, but rather taking the game to the Bruins and finishing their checks, and coming out 4-0 winners to bring about a Game 7 on Wednesday.

This strong response to the disappointing effort on Saturday is a little unexpected, but not really shocking.  While it seemed that the Canadiens were outmanned, and that the referees were going to let the Bruins cheat to a series win, starting with the two blatantly obvious crosschecks by Brad Marchand on Brendan Gallagher and Lars Eller, and finishing up with the continuing idiocy of Don Cherry-favourite Sean Thornton, and that the Canadiens had a "knee on the ground", to quote Michel Therrien, they didn't put the other knee on the ground tonight, but rather got back up, to continue with the head coach's preferred image.  And that has been a theme this season, that the team has undergone adversity but never gave up, perhaps best encapsulated by the three-goal comeback win against the Sens late in the season.

We saw some of the good things that the Canadiens were doing earlier in the playoffs, with strong defensive play from Mike Weaver, effective, relentless forechecking from Michaël Bournival, Dale Weise and Lars Eller, and solid goaltending from Carey Price, who cooled things off repeatedly for the Bruins.

What was different tonight was how the Canadiens didn't seem spooked by the physical game of the Bruins.  While les Glorieux may not be able to crunch opponents like the biggest Bruins, what they can do is assert themselves, and not allow their opponents to play unconcerned and unmolested.  Les boys did what they had to do, they did what they can, and the Bruins weren't playing as confidently with the puck tonight, they bobbled it a few times and turned it over in the face of the Canadiens' pressure, one instance which led to Lars Eller's early goal in the first period.  

Another difference from the previous game was the long-awaited arrival of the Canadiens best offensive elements.   Thomas Vanek and Max Pacioretty both had a goal and an assist, and David Desharnais also had an assist.  Which is what they have to do.  I wrote at the end of the season that this trio had to chip in at least a goal per game, minimum, no excuses, and they've fallen quite short of that level during the playoffs.  The Canadiens have managed without their contribution so far, but P.K. can't score two powerplay goals every game, and with René Bourque's enthusiasm apparently flagging, these guys can't come up snake eyes.  They have to produce.  No excuses.

I've thought that Max might be injured, he's been given a rough ride this series, by Zdeno Chara notably, and I remembered a series in the 80's when the Canadiens were unceremoniously bounced out, and General Manager Serge Savard announced at that point that Bob Gainey had played with two separated shoulders, which was meant to explain his ineffectiveness and demonstrate his great courage.  The latter was never really in doubt, but the wisdom of having him on the ice thus enfeebled was certainly questionable.  

The same goes for Max.  If he's not able to play, if his shoulders ache and he can't get the puck in the corners or get his shot off, let's sit him out and put in someone who can play against the Bruins.  I'm sure Whitey is chomping at the bit, he won't be an offensive threat, but his effort and desire won't be questioned.

Tonight, Max did go in the corners with authority, and finished his check a couple of times, hard, enough to get a Bruin thinking the next time he had to go get a puck with his face in the glass.  Max also skated really hard, was a constant worry for Bruin defencemen, and generally fulfilled his assignment with honours.

Another forward who seemed revived was Brandon Prust, who played a lot more like last season's version than the one we've seen lately.  While he and Dale Weise may seem like an unlikely pair for Daniel Brière, the combo worked, they spent more time in the Bruins' zone than theirs.  

The biggest change for our team was the insertion of Nathan Beaulieu as the left defenceman on the third pair.  Francis Bouillon had a long productive streak playing alongside Mike Weaver against Tampa and early in this series, but when he struggled Douglas Murray got the nod, with mixed results.  He chipped in some thunderous hits and yeoman effort on the penalty kill, but his pairing were bottled up in their end for long stretches.  

The expected response might have been to put a fresh, rested Francis Bouillon back in, but Michel 'The Gambler' Therrien played a hunch and put in the rookie instead.  Nathan played a good game, using his mobility and puck skills, and picking up an assist on Max's breakaway goal.  There was some talk on l'Antichambre that it wasn't a sure thing he'll be in the lineup in Boston for Game 7, what with him being a rookie and the Bruins having the advantage of the last change, but it's difficult to see how his pairing is more prone to being exploited than one with Douglas Murray or Francis Bouillon.  Also, the coaching staff will be leery of breaking up a winning lineup.

With the game out of reach, we saw Milan Lucic, with his team playing 5-on-4, long after a whistle, with a linesman insulating him, take a few gloved punches at 5'10" Mike Weaver.  I thought Milan wasn't supposed to fight fourth-liners, that his coach wouldn't let him.  I guess that only applies when Georges Laraque or Colton Orr are the scrubs in question.  Plus ça change, plus c'est la même pourriture.  

So a good, clear team win, with the Canadiens outscoring, outshooting and outhitting the Bruins.  Carey Price was better.  We won more faceoffs, caused more turnovers.  Generally, we wanted it more.

So my prediction of the Bruins winning in 6 games at best if the Canadiens played well is in great jeopardy of not coming to pass, and I couldn't be happier.  I pronounce the series now a tossup, despite the Bruins playing at home.  We have the forces of darkness on the run.

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