Before this series began there was a smug sense of anticipation in the Boston media about the Bruins chances against a smaller Canadiens team that struggled with consistency over the course of the regular season. I remember watching a segment on NESN in which the Montreal Gazette’s Pat Hickey spent a few minutes with Jade McCarthy Lyndon Byers breaking down how the series would go. Hickey, after some good-natured ribbing predicted the Bruins would win in 6. Lyndon Byers (wearing what has to be the most god-awful thing done to Old Glory in history) predicted the Bruins would win in 5 games, stating that the Bruins had “figured out how to beat the Montreal Canadiens. They have model to get though these guys”. With the benefit of hindsight on my side I can definitely argue that the Bruins model was not to win 3 of 4 victories in overtime. I can categorically say that the model did not include losing the first two games on home ice. For all the bluster and hot air emanating from both fan-bases during the course of the season, the truth is that these two teams while playing different styles have been extremely competitive over the course of multiple seasons.
And while every time one of these teams loses to the other it feels like the end of the world, it really isn’t. The series was literally played to the point that the team which made the first mistake in overtime would go home. A tipped shot from Nathan Horton’s stick found the twine and the Canadiens season is over. This wasn’t the murder that pundits predicted. It wasn’t a bloodbath. This was a skin-of-the-teeth victory, and would have been the same had Brian Gionta scored in OT instead of the Bruins number 18.
The Canadiens and Bruins both had great difficulties overcoming the strengths of the other side. Starting in Game 3, the Bruins started moving bodies towards the net, getting behind the Montreal defenders who were attempting to ‘front’ the Bruins in order to block shots. The result was that they were able to jam home rebounds for easy(ish) goals. The Canadiens strategy depended on a goaltender who can either kick rebounds away from players near him, or smother rebounds altogether. The Bruins did a fantastic job of breaking down this strategy which preyed on Montreal’s defense. Carey Price was very good in this series, and yet, could not find a way to keep the puck out of the net in the end.
On the other side, Boston’s defense was exposed time after time by stretch passes to speedy wingers. While the Bruins were much better at clearing the front of the net, they had great difficulty matching the speed of players like Tomas Plekanec, Michael Cammalleri, David Desharnais and Brian Gionta. In the end, the speed of the Habs wasn’t enough. The players will certainly be reliving the missed opportunities as their summer begins.
I look forward to the second round match ups that have emerged. I think there are very interesting stories in both the East and West. Predictions are useless – but I know that there is some fantastic hockey ahead.
Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll continue to update the site with a player-by-player season postmortem. My intention is to look at the season of each player who has a chance of playing for the Canadiens next year and to assess what possibilities exist for the Habs as far as next year’s roster is concerned. I also want to look at what draft and free-agent possibilities could emerge over the summer.
It was another great season with highs and lows. Of course we would have all preferred a victory over the Bruins to extend the post-season run, but I have to say there is an interesting young corps of players who are emerging from the farm-system that leads me to have an optimistic view of the months ahead. Enjoy the rest of the playoffs and make sure to check back frequently.