Writers in Montreal are praising the team-wide work ethic of the Canadiens following their two victories in Boston this past week. Boston writers are confused as to whether or not it is the Canadiens who deserve credit, or whether the Bruins deserve scorn for the outcome of the two first games of the Eastern Conference Quarter Final. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Today I’m going to break down the goals that Boston may have had entering this series, and how Montreal has been able to negate Boston’s effort.
1. Score the first goal.
I cannot overstate how critically important it has been for Montreal to score the first goal in both games of this series. Everything else that the Habs have accomplished is owed to the fact that for all but a couple minutes of this series, they have been playing with the lead. Boston has been forced to try to catch up, and in the NHL that is always more difficult to do.
2. Impose Physical Strengths
Clearly Boston had developed a game plan to deal with the Canadiens over the course of the season – leading to pre-playoff predictions by NESN pundits that the Bruins had “figured out how to beat these Canadiens”. It looked that way to everyone coming into this series. To win Boston simply had to push the Canadiens around. They would blast the defense until they made mistakes. They would run Price’s crease. They would create traffic in front of the net. Montreal’s defense would not be able to keep the Bruins from attacking Price, and the result would be goals in the net.
Playing with the lead Montreal has been (unsurprisingly) good at blocking shots, clearing the crease, getting into the space of Boston’s forwards with quick sticks, and smart positioning. Boston’s forwards have come nowhere close to crashing the net and most of their offensive play has been contained neatly on the outside. Every time that Boston has tried to physically dominate the Habs the puck has gone the other way. Smart play has neutralized the B’s effectiveness. When called upon to drop the gloves, even Wisniewski who is recently over a broken bone in his cheek, handled himself very well. The message is clear: “You’re a tough team, but this team knows how to play playoff hockey. Your tactics won’t work in the post-season when you cannot chance taking penalties.”
3. Use the strength of forwards to get pucks behind the Montreal defense.
Subban, Gill, Hamrlik, Wisniewski, Sopel, and Spacek have clogged the middle, blocked shots, and cleared rebounds so that Price has had to make very few second chance stops. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that ‘the Kid’ has stopped nearly everything that has come his way. Boston has been able to gain control of the offensive zone, but Montreal defenders have been much better at causing turnovers and limiting offensive chances. This has been the most effective part of PK Subban’s time on the ice. Subban and Gill have completely sapped the confidence of the Bruins top line, by responding with just enough skill and physicality to make quick, smart defensive plays.
4. Get pucks quickly to forwards to take the pressure off of Boston’s slower (relatively) defense.
This has been the Achilles heel of the B’s play thus far. Not only has the Bruins’ defense committed a litany of turnovers, their forwards have not given them the kind of support needed to make efficient break-outs against Montreal’s ‘trap’ system. The speed of Montreal’s forwards has made every break-out attempt a nightmare for the B’s. Turnovers have led to many chances – and all of the goals thus far. Montreal hasn’t needed to impose any kind of offensive system on the Bruins because they’ve gotten goals off of the rush, where the Bruins have no chance of abusing the smaller Montreal forwards with playoff-style punishing body-checks. Montreal needs to continue to force turnovers to use the advantage they have with their forward speed. Plekanec, Gionta, Cammilleri, Gomez, Kostitsyn, Desharnais, Eller etc have all had odd-man opportunities.
5. Tim Thomas will need to be the Vezina goalie that broke records this season.
Tim Thomas is not the reason the Bruins are down 2-0 in the series. Still, when Boston needed huge saves, he’s let in a couple goals that have hurt momentum - particularly early. It is not solely his fault. Price has also given a few rebounds that could have potentially ended up in his net. The difference is that when he needed help his defense cleared the rebound, or he made a spectacular save (a couple posts didn’t hurt either).
I doubt that Thomas will be replaced with Tuuka Rask in this series. You don’t replace your potential Vezina winner who has only given up 5 goals over 2 games with a young goaltender who hasn’t played in a long while. The Bruins have to go with the guy that got them there. Still, his life will be a nightmare if he lets in an early goal tonight. If people thought that Boston’s playoff crowd was loud, they have no idea what is in store tonight.
That is why once again, scoring that first goal will be critical to Montreal’s success. Similar to the Habs’ strategy in Game 1, Boston will be trying desperately to take the crowd out of the game early. If they can do that, they might just give themselves life in this series. If Montreal can ensure that the home-ice advantage plays in their favour – it may just be lights out for the Bruins this season.
Its time to show the Bruins how to take care of business. Go Habs Go!!!!