Montreal Canadiens' 5 Biggest Questions in Playoff Series vs. Boston Bruins
The Montreal Canadiens did what they set out to do in the first two games of their second-round playoff series versus the Boston Bruins. They earned a split in Boston and now head to Montreal with home-ice advantage.
However, it's not easy to look at this series like that.
Anyone who watched the games knows that the Habs should have a 2-0 series lead. They blew a two-goal lead late in Game 2 and, in doing so, let the Bruins back in the series.
Montreal's inability to close out Game 2 has raised a lot of issues about the series as it shifts north to Montreal.
Here are the five biggest questions for the Montreal Canadiens in their playoff series versus the Boston Bruins.
Can Montreal Play a 60-Minute Game?
In Round 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Montreal Canadiens were able to get away with a few momentary lapses. On occasion, these allowed the Lightning back in the game, but Montreal was still able to skate away with the win.
The opponent in Round 2 isn't the Tampa Bay Lightning. It's the Presidents' Trophy-winning Boston Bruins. They make you pay for taking a few shifts off, and that's the reason why this series is tied.
In Game 1, Montreal went into the third period with a 2-0 lead. Six minutes and 30 seconds later, the game was tied.
Montreal started the third period better in Game 2, scoring a goal to stretch their lead to 3-1 and keeping the Bruins out of their zone. Then Montreal had its lapse and Boston scored four goals in the final 10 minutes.
The Canadiens have shown that they can play with the Boston Bruins. If not for that Game 2 collapse, they'd be sitting on a 2-0 series lead.
But they're not. The series is tied 1-1 and the Canadiens need to learn from their mistakes in the first two games.
The Bruins are a very good hockey team, and it's going to take a full 60-minute effort in each game if the Habs hope to knock them off.
How Good Can Carey Price Be?
Carey Price has been unbelievable for just about the entire second-round series so far.
Some might argue he had a lapse as the Bruins scored three goals in a span of 5:32 during the third period in Game 2. Others would say the bounces finally started going Boston's way and Price didn't have much of a chance, especially on the Bruins' third and fourth goals.
Regardless, Price has been playing out of his mind against the Bruins. He has stopped 78 of the 85 shots the Bruins have sent his way, many of which have been from point-blank range.
Price's play had the Bruins frustrated until the end of Game 2. He was in their heads, forcing them to make one too many passes or shoot wide of the goal.
However, Boston's furious comeback surely has its scoring confidence back—and it could have Price thinking twice about his game as well.
Montreal will need Price to be as good as he has been for the remainder of the series if it hopes to upset Boston. In fact, he might need to be better.
The Bruins are the better all-around team and will continue to dominate puck possession and shot totals. Price can expect to see a lot of rubber over the next few games.
His play could be the biggest factor in deciding the series.
Where's the Top Line?
Down the regular-season stretch, the Canadiens' top line of David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek was one of the most dominant in the NHL.
So far in the playoffs, it hasn't been that way. At least not at even strength.
Vanek leads the line with with just two even-strength points in the entire playoffs. Desharnais has but one. Pacioretty has zero.
Considering how Montreal's other lines struggled to score in the regular season, it's actually a bit surprising that the Habs are 5-1 so far in the 2014 playoffs. That just goes to show how good Montreal's depth has been.
If Montreal hopes to win three more games in this series and advance to the Eastern Conference Final, the No. 1 line needs to wake up and play better hockey.
The line did combine for two power-play goals in Game 2, but aside from that it simply hasn't been a threat.
Little Desharnais has been the best of the bunch, relentlessly working for the pucks as Zdeno Chara puts a pounding on him.
The effort has been there from Pacioretty, but the results have not. He's not even getting the chances as he was in Round 1. He does have eight shots on goal, but few have been dangerous.
Vanek spent most of Game 1 on the fourth line for his sleepwalking performance, but did rebound to score twice (both on the power play) in Game 2. Hopefully, this gets his confidence up and he becomes more dangerous in all situations moving forward.
The Bruins were the best team in the NHL this season. The Canadiens will need their top line to be at its best if they want to pull off the upset. So far, it has not been.
How Much Punishment Can the D-Men Take?
The Boston Bruins are a big, physical team. Through two games in this series, they have thrown 90 hits on the Montreal Canadiens.
The majority of these have been directed at the Canadiens' defenders, most of whom aren't very big. The defense has done a good job so far of getting the puck out while taking a hit, but it's fair to wonder how long that will last.
If the Bruins continue to punish the undersized Montreal defense, and they surely will, it is entirely possible that it affects the series.
The defense might start to think a little too much about the incoming hit, which could lead to a giveaway and then a crucial goal. It hasn't happened yet, but it seems like it's only a matter of time.
Head coach Michel Therrien seems to be thinking the same way.
According to Arpon Basu of NHL.com, big Douglas Murray was skating with Mike Weaver on the third-defensive pairing at practice on Monday. The 6'3", 240-pound Murray, who hasn't played yet in the playoffs, was taking the place of the 5'8" Francis Bouillon.
Therrien would not comment on possible changes for Tuesday, but Murray for Bouillon seems likely.
Murray is a better fit to handle the big Boston forwards. He'll also help slow down the Bruins by dishing out a few hits of his own.
He's also a good shot-blocker, having blocked 115 in just 53 regular-season games. That will come in handy, as the Bruins will continue to throw pucks at the net when given the opportunity.
The Bruins have exerted a physical toll on the Canadiens defense so far in Round 2, and it will continue to be a big part of their game plan moving forward. Montreal's ability to deal with the hits could be a key factor for the remainder of the series.
Can the Habs Turn Home-Ice Advantage into Wins?
The Montreal Canadiens went into Boston, earned a split and stole home-ice advantage in the series.
That would have been the realistic goal heading into the series, and it has been accomplished.
Yet because the Habs were just 10 minutes away from a commanding 2-0 series lead, it is easy to forget that. Their collapse was devastating, but they have to step back and look at the bigger picture.
All that is left to do is win on home ice and they will be playing in the Eastern Conference Final. Easier said than done? Of course, but it's the most positive thing the Canadiens can take from the series so far.
Home ice hasn't been all that much of an advantage to the Canadiens this season, as their 23-13-5 home record looks very similar to their 23-15-3 road record.
This isn't the regular season, though, and the Canadiens are 2-0 at home so far in the 2014 playoffs.
Games 3 and 4 are set to take place at the Bell Centre on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. The atmosphere is going to be electric. The Habs need to feed off the energy of the crowd, much like the Bruins did during their Game 2 comeback.
Montreal did what it set out to do in Boston by earning a split. Now it needs to take advantage of it and win on home ice.