The excitement around this series has been through the roof. From the racist tweets to the squirting of water bottles every moment has been haut emotion and documented within an inch of its life. This is what happens when the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins meet in the NHL playoffs. These two teams represent traditions that have been going on for decades and a very public “feud” that has endured just as long. Montreal fans hate Boston fans and vice versa. These emotions transfer onto the ice and more often than not the players get into it physically. All this makes for something that draws even the most casual of fan in.
In Montreal the drive for 25 (meaning Stanley Cups) is hanging on by a thread. They found themselves down 2-3 going into game 6. When behind 2-3 in a playoff series Montreal has a 7-20 record. But they did beat the Bruins the last time they faced this situation though ended up losing game 7 in the year that Bruins went on to win the Stanley Cup.
The crowd was awesome. Even better than expected. The chants of Ginette-Ginette-Ginette before the Canadian national anthem demonstrated they were all in. I’m sure that fans were hoping that the team’s talisman and Quebec icon Ginette Reno would shake the hand of snake bitten winger, Max Pacioretty before disappearing down the tunnel as it has come to be believed that a mere shake of her hand will reawaken the scoring touch of whomever she selects. Pacioretty, the man who had scored 39 goals during the regular season, was mired in a slump and if his team was going to win they would need the goal scorer to awaken from his slumber.
Seemingly using that energy the home side got off to a good start. A good start was paramount for Montreal if they had any hope of extending this to a seventh game. There was to be no tomorrow for the Habs if they lose. Montreal’s plan, after stinking the joint out in game 5, had to be to play with the desperation of a team who one loss would be the end of the season. Play with passion yet also remain focused and disciplined.
Again there was a change by Michel Therrien in his line-up. Douglas Murray was out and Nathan Beaulieu was in. This was Beaulieu’s first NHL playoff game. Therrien was surely looking to benefit from the mobility, strong skating and offensive strength of this young defenseman. It was a risky move in that Beaulieu had not played for 3 weeks and had only played 7 regular season games with Montreal. Daniel Brière was also back in the line-up with Travis Moen taking a turn in the press box. Obviously Therrien was going with speed and offense rather than muscle.
In this playoff run what Montreal has done well is start games well and score first. Never before this season had they needed to do exactly this. Third line centreman Lars Eller provided the lift needed when he opened the scoring at 2:11 of the 1st period. His goal came about because of a Bruins’ giveaway. Tory Krug passed the puck to his defense partner, Kevin Miller, behind the Bruins’ net. Miller bumbled it on his backhand and the puck dame out in front of Tuukka Rask. There it was collected by Eller. Rask tried to poke check Eller in desperation, but missed. Eller went around Rask and directed the puck into the empty net on his backhand. The Bell Centre erupted.
Just before the 7 minute mark Brendan Gallagher had a great opportunity to double the lead for the home side. In his office in front of the Bruins’ net there was a scramble and Gallagher was able to get his stick on the puck. Rask dove back and miraculously stopped the puck on the goal line with his stick.
Throughout this series the Bruins has in some ways been their own worst enemies. I have never seen a team miss as many open nets or hit as many posts as they have. At 8:47 of the 1st Loui Eriksson hit the crossbar on a 2-on-1 against Beaulieu. Mike Weaver had fallen to create the odd-man rush. Eriksson’s wrist shot beat Carey Price up high only to ding off the crossbar and deflect up into the netting for a whistle. Price had a smile on his face after the play probably knowing he had benefitted from some luck there.
The 1st period was great with a fast pace and both sides had offensive chances. The 2nd started off featuring P.K. Subban being assessed a holding the stick penalty. Boston was not able to score on the power play, but they kept the puck in the Montreal zone for most of it. Price was called upon to make a couple of good saves, but none better than the one he made on Milan Lucic at the beginning of the power play. It seemed like Lucic had an empty net to put the puck in when a diving Price came back to stop it with his body. The pressure continued for an extended period after P.K. came out of the box. There was a long sequence without a whistle. Montreal was able to withstand the pressure and with under 5 left in the 2nd Pacioretty broke out of his slump. Nathan Beaulieu attempted a Subban-like lob pass from his own end that benefitted from a bit of luck as it bounced off a Bruins’ players’ glove at center right into the path of Pacioretty. Zdeno Chara was too slow to get to the puck and Pacioretty used his body to block off Chara as he broke in on Rask. Showing he hadn’t totally lost his goal scorer’s instincts Pacioretty quickly wristed a shot through the 5-hole. Another explosion at the Bell Centre.
Things got even better when Gregory Campbell was assessed a minor for high sticking at 17:13 and 26 seconds into the man advantage Thomas Vanek scored. Now the ole-ole-oles were beginning. Maybe a little early as everyone had previously witnessed on a couple of occasions the Bruins’ 3rd period push. This time, though, Montreal did not sit back as they continued to push forward instead of retreating into a defensive shell.
This paid off two ways – 1) the Bruins could not mount enough pressure to score and 2) Montreal was able to score another goal. With 4 minutes left in the game Claude Julien decided to go for it and called Rask to the bench. The Bruins’ goaltender hadn’t even made it there when David Desharnais caused a turnover at centre and played the puck to Vanek. He wristed the shot from the blueline into the empty net. Pure ecstasy and a rousing round of ole-ole-ole.
Brandon Prust was the pregame recipient of the traditional Ginette handshake and even though he did not score the bruising winger did have a strong game. Lately due to some injuries (shoulder and who knows what else) Prust had just been a shadow of himself so far in the playoffs. Seemingly because of his physical problems he could not be the intimidating and punishing force the team needed. In game 6 it was like the old Brandon Prust was back. He was punishing anyone in a Bruins’ uniform with solid hits, playing well on the penalty kill and forechecking hard.
The two goal scorers, Vanek and Pacioretty, got 3 goals between them. A very opportune time for them to wake up. Even though he did not score a goal, David Desharnais contributed as well – with a nice steal on the Vanek empty netter and then saving a goal against by clearing the puck off the line with his glove with 9 minutes left in the game. If that had gone in it would have made the game 3-1 with plenty of time left for a team like the Bruins to score two.
All in all this was a true team effort. Every line contributed with goals coming from 3 of them and the 4th providing solid defense and energy. Carey Price recorded his 4th shutout in the playoffs and funnily enough they have all come against the Boston Bruins. No one had a bad night in the bleu-blanc-rouge. Well, Mike Weaver certainly did not have the strongest of games. He had some troubles moving the puck out of his end at times, but he did block 4 shots including one with his hand that must have stung.
Game 7 is to take place Wednesday night in Boston. Get your heart checked before as it is bound to be tense one.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees – Dan O’Halloran and Kelly Sutherland
Linesmen – Derek Amell and Derek Nansen
-Goals: 1st Period:
2:11: Montreal – Lars Eller unassisted
15:24: Montreal – Max Pacioretty assisted by Nathan Beaulieu and Mike Weaver
17:39: Montreal – Thomas Vanek assisted by Andrei Markov and Max Pacioretty
16:04: Montreal – (en) Thomas Vanek assisted by Andrei Markov and Max Pacioretty
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 28
Boston – 26
-3 Stars: 1) Carey Price
2) Max Pacioretty
3) Tomas Plekanec
-Final Score: Montreal – 4
Boston – 0