Wednesday, April 20, 2011
10:59 AM Kamal Panesar 2 comments
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.
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 HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. 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 http://www.team990.com/
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(Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images North America)