It came as no shock when the regular season ended and the Habs drew the Boston Bruins as their first round match-up. For much of the season, the two teams had been on a collision course – both literally and in the standings. Frankly, most of us probably feel as though the Canadiens and Bruins have played post season hockey against each other EVERY year of our lives. It is why this rivalry is the best in the sport. It doesn’t need hype. It is obvious.
I’m not going to go over the history, although the newly renamed “hockeyinsideout.com” has a great piece that gives a brief over-view of a fan-turned CBS radio correspondent’s view of the match-up. Instead I want to focus on what has to happen tonight for the Canadiens to steal game 1 of this series.
It is obvious that Carey Price needs to play well in this series to give his team any chance at a victory. The Canadiens simply do not have the firepower at the forward position to match up well with the Bruins. The Bruins are clearly the better team on paper. They have all of the required elements to make them one of a few teams that pundits are picking to be a legitimate cup contender. I cannot disagree.
While Carey Price will be the key to any Canadiens success, it will be what happens in front of him that will dictate whether or not the Canadiens can pull off yet another playoff upset against the Bruins. Last year the Habs dispatched the Capitals and Penguins via a strategy of bend-but-do-not-break. They were out-shot wildly, and yet – were able to give Jaroslav Halak a sight line for most shots. This season teams have begun to figure out how to exploit the Canadiens who still struggle to score. It will be critical that the Canadiens defense and forwards are able to clear rebounds, and deflected pucks out of the dangerous areas. The Bruins have shown over the course of the last two games that if they are allowed space near the net, that they can manufacture goals.
Carey Price is a goaltender who makes “percentage” saves. For the most part, he gets his big body in the way of shots – which most of the time will allow him to make the first save. Price also has superb rebound control which is why he has been so successful this season. When Price struggles however, it is usually the result of pucks that change direction en-route to the net. Whether a shot is deflected in, or is blocked and then shot from a different angle, Price (like all goaltenders) is often left out of position. This is why teams such as the Flyers and Bruins have had certain successes against him in the past. It is most certainly why he struggled last year.
This year Price has worked incredibly hard at fighting through screens, and tracking down deflected pucks – and it has showed from the very first games. He is the same calm goaltender, but this year he’s making saves that were ‘gimme’ goals last season.
While I don’t expect an offensive outburst from the Canadiens, I do expect them to do everything within their power to neutralize the effectiveness of Boston players who will be gunning for the crease. The Habs’ defenders will need to walk a fine line between effective defense and cheating. That is what the playoffs are all about. Martin will still employ a 5 man back strategy in our zone – meaning quick passes to forwards who are skating quickly is Montreal’s best hope for frustrating the Bruins. I’ll be watching early in the game to see if the Habs can weather the early push from the Bruins, and will be making crisp passes. If those passes are tape to tape coming out of our zone, I believe the Canadiens have a great shot at stealing Game 1. If not – we could be in for a long night.
The time for chatter is done! The playoffs are here!
Go Habs Go!!!!