The Missing Link: Montreal's Quest for (any) Toughness

Dan MichaudContributor IApril 21, 2008

At many times this season, a quick look at the faces of the Montreal Canadiens' coaching staff reveals the painful truth: Les Habitants simply are not that dur—tough. 

Many members of Montreal nation are quick to point out that some grit and dirty work was necessary to clinch the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and they are right. Unfortunately for those same fans, that was then, and this is now. 

That's the funny thing about the playoffs. The bad teams are gone, the lucky teams don't last, and the tough teams end up playing for it all. The regular season is just 82 blips on a radar...regardless of who or when you play.

The Canadiens were able to sneak up on a lot of teams this year who didn't expect the Habs to be playing come late April. The Canadiens most glaring need (an enforcer, or at least someone who's main skills are pugilistic) was able to be covered or washed over on a game-by-game basis. Now that the focus is on one game, one night, the Boston Bruins hold a distinct edge based on one simple point: balance.

Let's list the main contenders in the playoffs (based on popular opinion): Pittsburgh (Georges Laracque), New York (Colton Orr), Washington (Donald Brashear); and that's just in the East. Each of those teams has an honest-to-God enforcer.

Not that any of those players will beat you on their own, mind you, but anyone who targets (or tightly checks) Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, etc. is in for a visit from someone who can turn their lights out.

The Canadiens, however, lack the kind of player who will keep opponents honest, and make them think twice about hitting an Alex Kovalev or an Andrei Kostitsyn.  That is why the Bruins have the distinct edge in this game.

Forget about the diving, the injuries, and the fifteen callups from Hamilton last week. Montreal really only needs one more player: Chris Nilan (or Serge Roberge, or John Kordic, or John Ferguson). Someone, anyone, who can physically intimidate the opposition.

With all due respect to Tom Kostopoulos and Steve Begin, they are muckers and grinders, and their play in the series (so far) has been invaluable. The sad fact remains, however, that the Kovalev-Kostitsyn-Plekanec line has been neutralized by a Boston squad that has been allowed to run roughshod over it. 

At some point, in order to win a Stanley Cup, your best players have to be your best players. At the rate this series is going, neither team will make an extended run towards June hockey. What a shame, too, for these teams are possibly the two biggest sentimental favorites in the 2008 playoffs.