Friday, 1 May 2015

'15 Playoffs Round 2, Game 1: Canadiens 1, Lightning 2 (OT)

A disappointing 2-1 overtime loss for the Canadiens, who did everything but score tonight.  Or at least, score enough.  We worried about the tepid offence against the Sens, but the team was creative and dangerous tonight.  It's just a pity that it didn't show up on the scoreboard, with multiple chances missed, pucks skittering through the crease or not quite over the line, and with multiple posts hit.

Tonight was the night to capitalize on a tired team, to benefit from the fact that we dominated play, in a series that is promising to be difficult.  In such a close matchup, you can't fumble opportunities.  You want to win the games you're better in, because chances are there are games the other team will get the jump on you.

I watched the game on TVA rather than CBC, thinking I didn't want to be subjected to countless shots of Steve Yzerman.  I realized later that maybe Jim Hughson's team is assigned to our series, so maybe I'll check them out next time, since TVA still have basic technical issues.

For example, after a hit post by Max Pacioretty, they showed the wrong highlight, rather showing Brandon Prust and Lars Eller cycling the puck, while Patrick Lalime glibly described Max's close call.  They then paused for a commercial, and when they came back failed to show the hit post then, or why Brian Boyle had just been called for a penalty.

Despite TVA's extended growing pains, and their insipid between-periods commentary, which is tolerable only because of the fast-forward function on my PVR, I did enjoy watching the game.  Which is welcome news.

During the Senators series, I couldn't manage to sit through an entire game.  Sometimes I was revolted by the mucking and goonery and anti-hockey, and if that wasn't the case I was just plain bored.  I would fast-forward through the games.

I worried about this crisis of faith, whether I even liked hockey any more.  Maybe I've overdone it I thought, maybe I need to take a break.  Take up Aussie Rules football or something like that as my new spectator sport of choice.

But this morning, I was treated to a World Hockey Championships game between Canada and Latvia, a 6-1 win by the good guys.  The game was much more open than your routine NHL game, with the players making use of the wider ice surface.  Slashing, hooking, interference, all that was kept to a minimum.

At one point, Sidney Crosby had the puck in the corner, protecting it, and nobody tried to crosscheck him in the neck or piledrive him head-first into the boards.  Rather, one Latvian tried to body him off the puck, to take it away from him, and Sid's famous lower body strength prevented that, he managed to win that battle and break for the net.  Which is preferable to the viewer than seeing him brandondubinskyed.

Tonight's game was more in that vein, two skating teams who competed hard, took a minute once in a while to kypreos around the net after the whistle, but generally kept their noses clean and stuck to hockey.  The action was back and forth, with skating and passing and skill in evidence.

I'm often taken to task for criticizing the NHL product, the way the league dumbs down the game, the way it tilts the balance towards the checkers and the grinders.  I'm often told "Don't watch then."  I'm also accused of hating intense, defensive hockey, that I prefer the kind of hockey on offer during All-Star games, the 15-13 atrocities we've seen lately.

And of course this is balderdash.  To the first retort, that if I'm not happy I should just choose not to watch, I have to object that to criticize the NHL and to like and want to watch hockey are not mutually exclusive.  If anything, the NHL, as the league that purports to be the best, the highest expression of the sport of hockey, is an easy, wide-open target for criticism.  It should be held to account for the way it damages the sport, like FIFA should be.

To the second assertion, that to remove the slashing and the thuggery from the game will reduce it to the level of hockey seen at the All-Star Game, I say that when there's something at stake, when the players care, there is intensity and competitiveness, naturally.  As seen in the Olympics, or today at the World Championships, you don't need elbows to the temporal lobe, you don't need patella-on-patella contact, you don't need shaft-shattering crosschecks for the games to be competitive.

Let's hope that both teams in this series continue playing the clean, uptempo game seen tonight, rather than the drudgery inflicted on us by the Senators and the Flames lately.

And let's hope that Alex Galchenyuk doesn't end up leading the league in playoff PIM's by the end of the series.  Poor kid had a tough game, taking three minors, which the Lightning didn't cash in, fortunately.  I'll say this, each of these penalties were kind of unlucky.  One puck flipped over the glass, one errant high-stick that bounced up off a stick and in the opponents' faceshield when he's trying to stickcheck him, and a tripping penalty that seemed to have been wind-aided, if not dramatically enhanced by the Lightning forward.

So yeah, disappointing loss, it would have been nice to topple over an unsteady Ben Bishop when we had the chance.  He can now breathe out a sigh of relief, wipe the slate clean mentally with this win in the bank, and re-focus for the next game.

Hopefully the fans and the situation get to him again on Sunday and we can chip away at the giant's clay feet.

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