The Canadiens staved off elimination tonight with a 2-1 win that was much closer than it by all rights should have been. (Do we use the word 'stave' in any context or meaning other than teams avoiding elimination?)
The win was obtained courtesy of an offensive explosion from the heretofore dormant hyphenated right wingers Devante Smith-Pelly and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau. Both of them finally picked up their first post-season (hey, hyphen!) goal, and it was high time, since that was all the scoring the Canadiens could muster.
Fans sometimes castigate the Canadiens for being a team that plays on the periphery. Certainly, they've been shooting on the periphery. SportsCentre opened with a video-audio montage of all the posts they hit this game, to go along with all the other posts they've hit so far in this series.
And it may be an apt microcosm for this matchup, one team with a behemoth of a goalie who blots out the sun and obliterates angles with his 6'7" frame, and another with a plucky band of brothers long on heart but short on snipe, the modern-day Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.
This was something that was discussed in hushed tones in the Canadiens dressing room probably, until the irrepressible P.K. Subban impishly blurted out that Tampa goalie Ben Bishop had "been sitting on a horseshoe", overloading the Lightning's bulletin board to the point of collapse.
You don't do that, provide the other side with extra incentive, certainly not in the playoffs. You say how those guys in the other room are talented and they work hard and the next game is going to be a battle. You don't point and laugh.
Even though P.K. was decidedly right. And again tonight, Mr. Bishop looked clumsy, was caught stumbling by the HNIC cameras in an isolation shot when tracking the puck. He let pucks get by him and slam into the post, repeatedly.
The thing is even both Canadien goals clanged in off the iron. And that's kind of the point. Ben Bishop isn't an athletic or goaltending marvel, but he's effective, he poses a problem for the opposition. He covers a tonne of the net just by being in the crease. He was only beaten by two perfect shots that banked in off the posts; half an inch further out and they wouldn't have gone in, they'd have bounced out. A couple of inches in and they would have been occluded by the gargantuan goalie, haplessly struck in his acromegalic shoulders.
Not to go too far down the path of Charles Wang's sumo-wrestler-as-a-goalie idea, but there's getting to be a ceiling for what players can do when faced by gigantor netminders. In the days of Rogatien Vachon and Emile Francis, there was a lot of net to be seen, to shoot at, but goalies nowadays are as much as a foot taller, and have much lighter equipment that doesn't soak up sweat and water off the ice, doesn't bog the goalie down, can be made bigger without sacrificing agility and mobility.
Hockey skate and stick technology has been outpaced by goalie technology. It's like World War 1; one side has horses and muskets, and the other has tanks and mustard gas.
The laughable sport of basketball has a similar problem, with a net set at a certain height that allows a colossal human being who can barely get around to have a significant contribution to offer a team, by standing near his own net, à la Marc Eaton or Manute Bol. Hockey may be hitting its head on this ceiling, with the evermore obsolescent 4'X6' dimensions of the hockey cage. This needs to be looked at.
So as unsteady and unimpressive as Ben Bishop was, he still had an effect on the game.
Fortunately, so did Devante Smith-Pelly, who I reverse-jinxed today by claiming to be unimpressed with his hands and skill level, and P.A. Parenteau. Both of these guys have fallen off the radar, so much so that we might be tempted to think of their snipes as 'secondary scoring', but it would be an inaccurate representation. Both of those dudes were brought in to play on the Top 6, to add offence.
So again, the Canadiens played a game where they were clearly the better team, but couldn't prove it decisively on the scoreboard. Games 1 and 3 should have been wins but turned into one-goal losses. Tonight's game, despite a preponderance of scoring chances on the Good Guys' side, came right down to the wire again.
We now head back to Tampa Bay, steal a game there, and then bring it home for a Game 7 on home ice in front of demented fans. Easy peasy.
And I'd strongly suggest that Les Boys use the strategy I implored them to enact today, to score four or five goals very early on, to take the other team out of the game. Patent pending.