Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Canadiens-Bruins Playoff Musings on a Rare Two-Day Break

by Kamal Panesar

Doesn't it feel wrong not having a hockey game to watch tonight? Somehow, to me, it breaks the rhythm of a playoff series.

I remember watching playoff hockey in the 80s and 90s, and there was always, without exception, a game every second night. That went from the beginning of the playoffs until the end, making for one grueling race to the finish.

But alas, in the Gary Bettman era, things have changed.

So much so that nowadays there are sometimes two days off between games. In addition, there are even back-to-back games, which, in my opinion, are much worse than the long breaks. Playoff games are too intense to be playing back-to-back and too much is on the line.

Regardless of my feelings on the matter, the fact remains that these variations from the norm have become a part of playoff hockey. So looking at the Canadiens-Bruins first-round matchup, I can see how the players would appreciate the extra day off but not so much the fans.

Irish eyes are smiling

Reading Fluto Shinzawa's Boston Globe piece on the Bruins this morning, the Bruins feel like a ton of pressure has been lifted off their shoulders. Their 4-2 win over the Habs on Monday gave them a little breathing room and, perhaps, a well-needed dose of confidence.

Boston had been stymied by the Canadiens' system and Carey Price's goaltending over two games, with Montreal simply taking advantage of turnovers and defensive mistakes.

The same could not be said of the Habs' performance in Game 3.

In addition, Tim Thomas finally came to play on Monday. Despite letting in two softies, he made key saves when his team needed him to, ensuring the victory.

So today, with the Bruins scurrying to the safety and obscurity of Lake Placid, the team is loose, happy and looking forward to Game 4 tomorrow night in Montreal. Their confidence is renewed and they know they have a golden opportunity to turn the series on its head tomorrow night.

Change up

Benoit Pouliot, who day-by-day plays himself further out of a contract extension, has been a complete no-show for the Habs so far in the playoffs. He had another up-and-down season this year with a few flashes of brilliance, but ultimately has not shown enough for Montreal to keep him around past this season.

So during Game 3, when Pouliot took an ill-advised charging penalty and subsequent fighting major, he did little to ingratiate himself to Coach Martin. So much so that he didn't see a second of ice time after that point.

While the Bruins didn't score on the PP, they potted one only seconds after it had expired, early in the third to make it a 3-0 game. Sure the goal was the result of a horrible giveaway by Carey Price, but Martin was fed up with the inconsistent winger and nailed him to the bench.

Pouliot finished the night with five shifts and only 3:21 of ice.

As a result, the word this morning is that Pouliot will be a healthy scratch come Game 4 tomorrow night. With Jeff Halpern on the cusp of a return to action and Yannick Weber playing a solid Game 2, Martin has options.

If Halpern is ready to go, his defensive and faceoff abilities would make him an excellent addition to the lineup. Weber too would be a good fit, perhaps playing as a forward and getting spot duty on the power play. In the one game he played, he not only scored a goal but had three shots on goal, one blocked shot and two solid body checks.

All of that with only 10:53 of ice time.

The bottom line is that Martin has options and either player would make the Canadiens a better team. So far everyone has been pulling in the same direction for the Habs, and there is no place for a solo-artist like Pouliot.

Sorry Benoit, you did it to yourself.

Lesson learned or failure to launch?

By all accounts, the Montreal Canadiens were excessively loose and perhaps even nonchalant, during the morning skate prior to Monday night's Game 3. That lackadaisical attitude is what led the team to come out flat in the first period and miss a golden opportunity to put Boston on the mat.

As a result, the Bruins were able to jump out to a 3-0 lead before the Canadiens finally woke up. Montreal dominated the last 30 minutes of the game, coming within a goal of tying it, but ultimately fell short. It was too little too late and the Canadiens, to a man, seem eminently aware of that fact.

So was the loss a wake-up call for the Habs, or have they now taken their foot off the Bruins' neck and let them back in the series? We'll find out on Thursday. That being said, I don't think it's overly dramatic to say Game 4 will be the Habs' biggest game of the year.

Losing tomorrow and going back to Boston tied at two games apiece would be disastrous for Montreal. It would suddenly become a brand new, best-of-three series with Boston holding home-ice advantage. This is a scenario the Habs do not want to face.

As such, and given Montreal's seeming awareness of their Monday night misgivings, I expect a full 60-minute performance tomorrow night. However, with the opportunity to tie things up going back to Boston, I expect an equally intense performance from the Bs.

Quite simply, Game 4 has the makings of a classic. Tune in tomorrow night to find out how the story unfolds!

Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on and Habs writer on Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at

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(Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images North America)


great overview - thank you.

but what's up with the pouliot hogwash? playing himself out of a contract? sounds like the bandwagon AK-bashing we were hearing mid-season.

poo is the only natural goal scorer in our bottom six (note his placement on the regular season points chart), and the only one with the gifts required to play in the top six. he is a long-term project and i believe PG and JM are approaching him as such:

Step 1) develop mental discipline and defensive responsibility playing on the 3rd and 4th lines this season (unless he earned his way off, of course, which he must have come close to doing when him and DD were on a tear)

Step 2) sign him to a low ball contract due to low points production

Step 3) continue to develop his all around game as a depth option for the top six

be patient with benny boy - he's a keeper.

Good stuff! Thanks for your post!

I agree that BP has the size and skill to be an excellent player. What I, personally, question is his mental fortitude.

While I like your plan, I don't think PG and JM are developing him as a long termer. I actually think that this was his last chance and that he will not be back next season.

He and Martin don't seem to be able to co-exist on the same team. Knowing Martin's history, if he is benching Benny in the playoffs that does not bode well for his future.

Martin has given him a ton of chances and, aside from that 10-game or so stretch, Pouliot hasn't done much with it. The one caveat here is that DD has also gone ice cold since that stretch...and he was the guy who lit a fire under BP.

It was the same problem in Minnesota and I just don't see the team re-signing him in the offseason. Especially when they are already locked into Plek, Cammy, Gomez and Gionta. Also, if the price is right, I can see them keeping AK46...he's had a dramatic and consistent turn around.

By that logic, maybe they SHOULD wait longer on BP...but I just don't see it.

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