Friday, 23 May 2014

'14 Playoffs Round 3, Game 3: Canadiens 3, Rangers 2 (OT)

After losing two straight games in the warm confines of home, your 2014 Montréal Canadiens went against script and got one back from the New York Rangers on the road, winning in overtime 3-2.  Alex Galchenyuk, freshly back from a knee injury layoff, went to the net and banked a rebound off his shin, uh, chin, from the stick of Tomas Plekanec, who had been somnolent offensively so far in this series.

I feel like I have to make amends to various actors and players, apologize, eat a healthy serving of crow.  As a fan, I'm supposed to believe, and psyche up my team, from a distance, telepathically.  I think it works through the noosphere somehow.  Synchronicity.  Yeah, that's it.

First of all, I stopped believing in my team once Carey got injured.  I threw in the towel possibly before it was even announced that he was gone from the series.  It looked bad.  Even if he kept playing, would he be 100%?  I was protecting myself from the certain series loss, telling myself I didn't care that much anyhow, eliminating the Bruins was all I really needed to keep me nourished emotionally.  I was already looking forward to the summer moves, the draft.

I didn't believe in Dustin Tokarski.  Sorry young dude, but you look small in net.  After years of seeing giants Ben Bishop and Pekka Rinne and Jakob Markstrom eclipsing any mesh behind them, it's jarring to see wee Dustin crouched in there during play, and especially on slow-mo replays.  I haven't seen that much cage since "Deadliest Catch".  

Even when I tried to convince myself that he may have a corresponding advantage in terms of agility, quickness, I couldn't get there.  A Don Beaupré or Jocelyn Thibault needs to be miraculous, unerring, while a Robin Lehner just needs to be show up, and cover 95% of the goal area just by standing there.

I didn't believe in the fight in the team anymore.  I thought they'd surrender with Carey no longer in the ranks.

I didn't believe that David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty could find another gear.  David has been a giant, often the best forward on the ice for the Habs, darting all over and creating headaches for defencemen.  He hasn't backed down, hasn't shied away from contact,  he's put up with the crosschecks and the slashes.  

And Max, who often falls back on old habits, cruising where the opposition isn't, looking for open space so as to get his shot off, has added another layer to his game.  I didn't think he could, or would, but he has started to fight through the tangles, to win puck battles along the boards.  He's adapted, finished a few checks instead of skating by after the puck, investing for later on, putting the idea in opposing players that they'll get thumped later on.

Michel Therrien I thought had gone to the well once too often.  He's taken some bold decisions since he took over, in terms of goalie starts, healthy scratches, line combos, but I thought this Hail Mary, of going to his AHL goalie, was verging on histrionics.  Unseemly.  Just put your veteran in there and lose with honour, I thought.  Keep your composure.  Don't Leask Manoeuvre yourself.

But the Head Coach has been clear that this wasn't just a hunch he played, but rather a group decision with the coaches and management team reviewing both of his goalies' track records and recent performances.  It wasn't just betting on youth, trying to capture another Steve Penney or Jaro Halak bit of lightning in a bottle.

So I watched last night's game as a formality, an obligation for a true fan, but not expecting a win.  I might have even hoped for a quick, merciful end, a sweep, so I could get on with my summer.  And I expected the dam to break, when the Rangers were pelting the Habs goalie with rubber, that the inevitable would come. 

The Carl Hagelin goal, a cheapie bounce/bunt after a last-ditch effort from Josh Gorges, but precipitated by the Rangers' team, was to be the first of many, I thought.  

The Habs stayed in it though.  The saves accumulated, and they absorbed the blows, and scored a beautiful team goal to tie it up.  Alexei Emelin rubs out a Ranger behind his goal, passes the puck up to David Desharnais, who takes a hit to push the puck up to Max and Brendan who streak up the ice.  Max takes it up the left wing in the offensive zone while Brendan goes to the net.  Max finds Andrei Markov on the right side with a great pass, and Andrei one-times it past Henrik Lundqvist.

There was talk on both sides of lucky or bad bounces.  Let's agree that both teams got lucky on their second goals, but they weren't fluky, they happened because they were taking the play to the other guys.  And the same goes for the overtime goal.  Lucky bounce, sure.  I hope Alex doesn't have too big of a bruise on his face this morning, for the sake of his teenybopper fans.  But it happened because of a fundamentally sound play, with a veteran taking a good shot on net, not really thinking it will get through, but hoping for a rebound or deflection.

Some heat, some controversy in the game too.  Brandon Prust put a late-ish hit on Derek Stepan, and though he hit the body the Rangers head snapped forward, so there was contact to the head as a result.  Mr. Stepan laid on the ice for a long stretch, and it looked bad, but then he jumped up and revived miraculously.  Maybe it's the fact that there wasn't a penalty called, but suddenly he was sharp, agitated, shouting threats.  

I wish players didn't feel they had to act injured to get a call.  You can't pick apart which are real and which are drama.  I was leaning to the latter, but now we get word that Derek Stepan has a broken jaw.  So, yeah, sorry about that.

Colin Campbell, you ridiculous, inept fool, take care of this.  First, assure players that they'll get the call, when they're restrained, hooked, hit from behind, they don't have to fall or feign injury.  Tell your refs to make the calls, never mind Don Cherry.  Whether a player falls to the ice shouldn't be the determining factor on whether a player was fouled.

Then, announce that embellishing is cheating, it's not gamesmanship, and it won't be tolerated, winked at as a strategy, a means to an end.  It's a fundamental attack on the game, like PED's.  It calls the honesty and fairness of the game in question.  That anyone deemed to have exaggerated their reaction, based on subsequent video review, will be suspended.  You will be caught.

The diving, the over-reacting, the Bruins-ing, it would disappear overnight if these simple steps were taken.  Fans wouldn't be so polarized, crying foul when their own player was the victim, but calling opponents fakers.

Hockey needs to address this, so that it doesn't fall into disrepute, like soccer is with the average North American fan.  That sport is harmed by the perception that players are overly dramatic, fall at the merest contact, and roll around on the turf clutching their knee when there's nothing wrong with them.  

Another noteworthy event was the ejection of Dan Carcillo for abuse of an official.  While Brandon Prust was fighting Derek Dorsett, who was trying to avenge Derek Stepan, Dan Carcillo was restrained by a linesman.  For whatever reason, the Ranger pushed/crosschecked/punched the official a couple times at least.  This is a great opportunity for the sport to rid itself of that clown for a long, long time.  I say suspend him three or four seasons.

So the Canadiens have assured themselves of another game at the New Forum, and get a little bit of momentum, a little bit of confidence.  Maybe they planted a seed of doubt in the opponents.  And my prediction that we'd win in four still looks precarious, but now I won't give up hope.

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